When I got home on
Friday night, I noticed that the Proms were on television. I can’t say I
watched it for long – just long enough for it to prompt me to write this post.
Because it reminded me that so much of what we as fundraisers create is
entirely visually orientated. And that seems a great shame.
Because exceptions are always interesting.
One exception I’ve come across in a slightly different area is the novel ‘An Equal Music’ by Vikram Seth (more famous for writing ‘A Suitable Boy’). If you’ve read it, you’ll know that it’s (principally) about two musicians and the music that brings them together and (now I’m ruining it for you) drives them apart.
Now I think I’ve got a decent(ish) imagination. In fact, I’ll admit to having an overactive imagination. If you describe a beautiful seascape for me, I’ll see it and I’ll want to be there. If you tell me about a murderer stalking the streets, I’ll be fairly sure he/she is directly behind me. And if you go into the details of an accident or an operation you’ve had, I won’t hang around for long.
But no matter how beautifully someone writes about Schubert’s ‘The Trout’ or Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’, I’m afraid it won’t mean much to me unless I hear it. Thankfully Vikram Seth appreciated this. So when you buy the book, you can buy the CD too.
Now at this point, I was going to tell you about a body of work we’ve done for one of our clients over the last eight or nine years which, in the terms set out above, certainly qualifies as exceptional.
It’s for Sense, the charity that works with deaf and blind children. And it’s amongst the work I’m proudest to have been a part of.
But first, by means of an important digression, I just want to deal with the can of worms I inadvertently opened up when talking about imagination. I’ll do it as quickly as I can.
- ‘Imagine’ is the most over-used word in advertising. Don’t use it. Derek Humphries sums it up beautifully here.
- Good copy can transport someone to a place they’ve never been. It can make them stand in the shoes or barefeet of someone who lives an entirely different life. But there are exceptions – as Vikram Seth found. It’s very difficult to ask someone to imagine a piece of music they’ve never heard.
- I’d also argue it’s entirely inappropriate to ask them to imagine how it feels like to have had nothing to eat for three days, to have been abused by a parent or to… (you can add other examples relating to your cause). Of course, you can ask them to relate to the emotions of feeling lonely, abandoned, frightened, confused etc.
- There are many ways of enabling a supporter to understand the position of the person you want them to help, but asking them to ‘imagine it’ isn’t one I’d recommend.
Which leads me back to Sense.
When we first pitched for the account almost ten years ago now, we carried out some research, which delivered disturbing findings. When asked about the cause, many people spoke of the hopelessness they felt for a child who was deaf and blind. Worse still, some spoke of their lives not being worth living (except they didn’t say in nearly such a diplomatic way).
What a difficult cause this is going to be to fundraise for we thought – briefly. Until we realised that what people were imagining when we used the term deaf and blind was a child living in absolute silence and absolute darkness, entirely cut off from everyone and everything around them.
And having worked at RNID, I knew that absolute deafness was very rare. So from that point onwards, we understood that we had to show how Sense would help a child use their sight and hearing (however limited) and all their other senses to engage with the world around them.
That eventually resulted in these lovely, colourful, tactile packs that aren’t just about what you can see, but what you can hear, touch, smell etc.
I've picked out a few examples, but there are many more. And a big thank you goes to the many people who had a hand in producing them.
The packs work because they were inspired by a great cause and by families who allowed us into their homes to see how they interacted with their child. What we saw, we turned into pieces that engaged the donor in using all their senses too. We helped the donors to understand the world of deafblindness rather than leaving them to imagine it as a bleak and hopeless condition.
TOUCH This is last year's Christmas pack. It included a small ball of cotton wool which the donor could use to make Father Christmas's beard on a card which a deaf and blind child would enjoy too.
HEARING This pack contained an envelope full of beans that you could rattle, just as a deaf and blind child might use a sensory toy (see below).
SIGHT This one is an old Christmas pack, which we did after visiting a family that made toys for their deaf and blind child using shiny paper because it perfectly captured the kind of light that enabled him to use his very limited vision.
The silver paper below showed through the die-cut angel dresses in the envelope above. The donor could make their own decorations.
Via rather a lengthy route round the houses, I think that's covered the points I wanted to make when I started. Thanks for being patient.
(And for those of you unfamiliar with Mr Ronnie Corbett, he is known for his rather rambling story-telling style.)