This is the third interview feature in our Lessons in Successful Fundraising series profiling successful charity event organisers to learn how they unite supporters for their cause.Sophie Billington, Funraising Manchester
A love of art and music, combined with a desire to give something back, led Sophie Billington to found Funraising Manchester, a first-of-its-kind journalistic platform which fuses creativity and charity.
It began as a blog featuring artists, musicians and other creatives using their talents to promote causes before Sophie became inspired to begin activity of her own. Over the past year, Funraising has held club nights and art events that have raised more than £2,000 for charity.
“The blog is inspired by the events and the events are inspired by the blog,” says Sophie, a recent English literature graduate of Manchester University. A prime example of this is Funraising’s most recent event Postbox Special Delivery, a jazz night held during the summer to raise money for The Bhopal Medical Appeal.
“We knew we wanted to do an event and knew who we wanted playing but couldn’t think of a relevant cause for a little while,” says Sophie. “Then I interviewed Ryan Ashcroft for the blog. He’s a photographer who’s been in India documenting the living situation of those who reside in Bhopal. Even though it’s over 30 years since the Bhopal Disaster, people continue to be affected by health defects caused by the gas leak. I decided we should base our event around that.”
Other causes Funraising has chosen to support include mental health charity, Manchester Mind and The Mustard Tree homelessness charity. Sophie aims to weave the theme of the charity through the events. For ArtBox, Funraising’s first event, local artists were asked to create work around the theme of ‘emotion’ to demonstrate the ongoing relevance of mental health issues. These works were then auctioned off to raise money.
“Last year we had about 50 artists donate work. They seemed to resonate with the cause. I think lots of artists do struggle with mental health, I guess because they’re big thinkers.”Credit: Funraising/Daniel Kirke photography
The idea of harnessing creative expression to effect social change has been broadly embraced, with many emerging artists, writers, musicians and DJs keen to get involved in Funraising’s activity. According to Sophie, it’s at the grassroots where people are most open to using their talents for the greater good.
“When there’s underground culture on it’s way up or when people are trying to make their way into a living, that’s when you see it the most; charity and culture interconnecting,” she says.
“As those people become more established they maybe stop using their creativity in that way, not because they stop caring but because they’re busy. I think ‘on the way up’ is sometimes where the best things are produced, the best pieces of art, the most interesting music.”Credit: Funraising/Daniel Kirke photography
Funraising – recently profiled on Eventbrite’s Generation DIY documentary – now has a team of 15 people on board and Sophie is planning to scale up activity.
“It was a side project last year but it’s becoming much more of a commitment,” says Sophie. ‘I’ve spent my summer building it up. We’ve now got a Head of Music Events, Head of Arts Events, Head of Music Blog, Head of Art Blog and all the writers and promoters.
“We’re aiming to do events roughly every two months. I’ve had to call it in a little bit as there are loads of people coming up with ideas and wanting to collaborate with us but I’ve realised if you spread yourself too thinly it might not be as good as when you spend two months on an event.”
While Funraising supports different charities with each event, Sophie hopes to offer them more than a one-off donation by running repeat events. “I’m hoping our events will become brands in their own right. For example, I want to do Easy on the Dijon again, which was an acid house event we did in March to raise funds for the Mustard Tree.”Credit: Funraising/Dan Needham, Shffl Media
Plans are already underway for the second edition of ArtBox, which will take place in December: “We’re just scouting a venue and have artists on board already,” says Sophie. “For our bigger events, like this one, we have to raise the money to put them on so we hold smaller events in between. These don’t require as many resources – they’re in venues where the hire is free and held on weekdays. We always manage to double the money we’ve made at them so we think it’s worthwhile.”
Although Funraising is run by students and graduates, their events are aimed at a wider audience – anyone who appreciates creativity and diversity and has a social conscience. Sophie encourages people to ‘party for a purpose’ through offbeat marketing.
“We try to be unusual with our marketing,” she says. “Take our latest event, for example, Brazilian Wax, which is a Brazilian music night. We like to get a pun and go with it. We give the event descriptions and copy a clear brand voice. Instead of just telling people what they’re going to get, we try to emotionally involve them with a story.”Credit: Funraising
The blog acts as a platform on which Funraising can promote its events, but Sophie also relies on Facebook and her ticketing platforms.
“A lot of our ticket sales come on the door but, in the run-up, it’s great to use sites like Eventbrite because they get a lot of traffic. When people see an event online that stands out, they’re much more willing to come and pay on the door. We also concentrate heavily on our Facebook page, where we’ve built a bit of a community, which is really nice.”
Sophie hopes to grow that community into a bigger movement for Manchester. She says: “I’d like to create more of a society, where people meet to talk about things they care about and how they’d like to express them.”Credit: Funraising/Dan Needham, Shffl Media
Meanwhile, she hopes to give to the volunteers who help run Funraising more recognition: “I know I can break through and build this into an actual business so we can run it a bit more professionally. That way we can expect more of people without exploiting them. Asking people to do things for free is a challenge and it doesn’t feel good to not give people what they deserve.”
On the other hand, all those involved share in the joy of supporting causes that matter to them. As Sophie concludes, “Counting the money after we’ve done an event is really satisfying, but what’s even more satisfying is hearing from the charity later on how that money has been used. Sometimes there will be specific examples of people who’ve been helped by that donation and that’s absolutely the best part.”