Tomorrow we have to decide between two concepts for the Irish Red Cross summer appeal: do we go with one focused on kids being rescued by an heroic volunteer, with the letter telling the hero-volunteers story; or, an ‘incident book’ – a medley of four stories that describe real-life incidents that our volunteers come across, with a cover letter from our Head of National Services describing the need and demand for our services over the coming months?
Both could work. Both will be based on true-life stories provided to us by our volunteers, with certain details changed to protect identities. This will be particularly the case if we go with one focused on a story around a child. Barnardos do this very well. The images they here in Ireland use for their current campaign are all taken from a UK photo library so as to avoid any identification of the clients here in Ireland.
And my favorite exposition of the hero myth is by RNLI, who have been doing it successfully for years. Ken Burnett tells a fantastic story about the second generation of that particular campaign, where he sat in on the photo shoot. The volunteers had a bucket of water thrown over their heads and just at that moment the photo was taken. Love it!
The hero-rescues-child concept has the potential to be emotionally compelling – important as the Irish Red Cross is not as well known in the national psyche for domestic response, a point I know many of our volunteers find frustrating. Yet this is the experience around all of Europe, where relatively speaking, domestic emergencies are rarer. In countries such as the US or Canada, conversely, the public often know less about the overseas work of say, the American Red Cross, and associates them more with domestic programmes that focus on responding to tornados or hurricanes etc. I was very moved recently listening to a story where after a twister lifted her home clean away and cut an astonishing swathe through their town, one woman burst into tears when the Red Cross volunteer showed up: “I knew you’d come’.
An ‘incident book’ on the other hand – containing stories of different rescues – some in villages, some mountain rescues, some responses to traffic accidents – would be richer in detail and provide a more varied and better overview of all Irish Red Cross work here in Ireland. Yet would it be compelling? I cant help feeling we are then asking people to support the Irish Red Cross, a more corporate and less personal idea than supporting a specific person (the volunteer), who has saved this child’s life. The latter is the Irish Red Cross’s work in action – but in story form.
And why a domestic theme? Well, we are still in the middle of the Niger(West Africa) Appeal. It is going very well, which is very satisfying as the people there need it so much. The need is so compelling and the world so uninterested that I’m proud we are responding. But we operate domestically as well as internationally (a unique position in my experience – I can’t think of any other Irish charity that does as I write) So I try to balance the appeals to look after all our beneficiaries, to use the jargon.
So, what to do? Which to choose? The copywriter and designer are waiting on an answer. The data is ready and the printer booked. An Post have us penciled in and the mail house is ready.
Check your mail early July…