Our BBC R4 Appeal — behind the scenes

Published Date
23/04/2021

(clockwise from top left): Ruth, Debbie, Jon, Martin

You can donate to MDUK’s BBC Radio 4 Appeal here. Thank you for helping us to beat muscle-wasting conditions.

Good news – even in Covid times!

My name is Debbie and I am Head of Donor Relations at MDUK. In June 2020, during the mounting worries of the pandemic, we received some refreshingly good news! We learnt that we had been successful in our application for a BBC Radio 4 Appeal. At a time when the majority of fundraising opportunities were cancelled, the news was a welcome distraction from pandemic life and offered a terrific opportunity to boost our depleted funds.

Shortly after hearing this news I was invited to attend a BBC workshop where we first met the Radio 4 Appeal team alongside Ruth (MDUK’s Senior Content Manager) and our CEO. The day was very informative and I learnt a lot about how the process worked, what to do, what not to do and most importantly heard from another charity, about how they had dealt with their appeal previously. This was invaluable and I was delighted when Evie Dickinson from Legs4Africa agreed to come to our kick-off meeting and share her priceless knowledge with MDUK.

Once we had gathered a project team together it was time to decide on which aspect of our work to focus the appeal on and who should deliver it. There was only one celebrity that we wanted to share our story and that was comedian Jon Richardson who is a great friend of the charity and has helped in the past. We were over the moon when Jon agreed. I am a big fan and have his DVDs so this was a real bonus for me. They say never meet your heroes but I was not disappointed; he has been really professional, thoughtful and hilarious throughout.

Next step was for Ruth to begin the arduous but rewarding task of writing the script. Ruth is known as “Ruth the Writer” but throughout this project she has been so much more than that. We have worked together to create a unique appeal and have earned ourselves quite the reputation as a double act.

Once the script was finalised it was time to build an effective campaign around the story including working closely with the rest of Ruth’s colleagues, our Comms and Digital team – my new heroes. I am a fundraiser so for me the key objective is to communicate our message effectively to encourage donations. This team made this a reality and the #MyMate campaign was born.

In the background I have been going back and forth with the BBC to ensure that they have all of the images and words they need to support our campaign as well as briefing our supporter care team who have the job of processing every single donation that comes in. Our double act has also been presenting at staff meetings to ensure that the whole charity knows what is going on.

The process of working on such a prestigious appeal is varied and brings a great deal of responsibility, however once the appeal was “in the can” the feeling was one of great pride and achievement. And now it is over to you….please do support the campaign and tell your friends to tune in and hear about our mates.

Getting the script together

I’m Ruth Martin, Senior Content Manager at MDUK. I write and edit content to make sure it brings to life who we are as a charity, to make our work matter to our audiences, and encourage them to get involved.

Debbie has told you how privileged we at MDUK feel to have a BBC Radio 4 appeal. While she’s overall lead on the appeal, I’ve had the joy of working alongside her. We’ve come to be known as a ‘double act’! In September last year, along with our CEO, Cat Woodhead, we joined a BBC briefing to find out how to plan the appeal. With overall direction from Cat, Debbie zoomed in on the fundraising, I on the script.

It didn’t take us long to decide to ask comedian Jon Richardson to present the appeal for us. We wanted him to tell MDUK’s story, and the most compelling way for him to do it was to talk about his good friend, Martin Hywood, legend and star fundraiser for MDUK. We were thrilled when Jon (and Martin) said yes.

I wanted to start by seeing Jon and Martin together, to witness their banter and get a feeling for their friendship. So I asked for a meeting on zoom, and was more than a little star-struck, to be honest! Speaking and listening to the two mates, I knew straight away what the concept for the script could be, but I didn’t know how best to suggest it. I used words like ‘different personalities’ and ‘opposite approaches’ and ‘juxtaposition’. Jon used his own words to reflect back to me what I meant.

“Yeah, I’m a proper whinge-bag who complains for a living, when I have nothing really to complain about. Martin, who has far more to complain about than I do, never does.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I left the zoom call, incredibly grateful to Martin for sharing his story and to both Jon and Martin for their generous, open, charitable hearts in supporting MDUK in this way.

Now the writing. It always involves a lot of thinking (aka staring at a blank page, throwing words at it, deleting them, staring, and repeat). When I’d written a first draft, I sent it to my colleagues. They loved it. They helped strengthen the story and, together, we continued to shape it until we felt happy to share it with the BBC.

When I sent Kate, the BBC producer, our first draft (aka our seventh draft), she loved it. But she felt the fundraising ask wasn’t right. “It never is, first time,” she encouraged me. “It’s always the hardest part.”

The heart of our original script remained unchanged bar a few helpful tweaks. Kate’s feedback on the fundraising ask was instructive, but also threw us out of our comfort zone. She challenged me to move away from detail and towards our biggest research dreams. It took a few careful conversations with colleagues, but we ended up with something even better than we’d imagined.

You can listen to the Appeal here.

The joy of this process has been the collaboration, every step of the way. Every bit of feedback has added value and roundness to a story that had a lot of work to do: celebrate a friendship, introduce two different perspectives, reflect the reality of living with a muscle-wasting condition, and convey a vision of hope that will inspire listeners to donate. In three minutes.

Every one of the 420 words you hear Jon and Martin speak is there on purpose. Every fun, challenging, edifying and constructive step along the way has helped us tell a universal story of friendship between two extraordinary, unique people. If Martin’s story has touched you, please donate what you can. Thank you.

Oh, and can I let you into a secret? Jon’s not only funny, he’s also hardworking, generous, kind, humble, and an absolute pro to work with. The whinge-bag stuff? He saves that all for the telly.

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