World’s Biggest Coffee Morning

Karin Weatherup | October 1st, 2013

I’m reading a great book at the moment, Velocity, by Ajaz Ahmed, who founded the digital innovation agency AKQA, and Stefan Olander, VP of digital sport at Nike. It’s written as a conversation between them so it’s really easy to dip into in the bath or on the bus, where most of my reading seems to happen these days. And it is full of example of brand-building through serving people instead of just interrupting them.

It was Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning last Friday, and in 2012 we applied that same approach for them. Income leapt from £10m to £15m. A good portion of that is down to the very smart decision to use DRTV to recruit new coffee morning hosts. But the underlying change in approach – to serve the women we wanted to woo in their busy lives to have a coffee morning, rather than just ask them to raise money – enabled Macmillan to present a mutually interesting opportunity that made for stunning success.

Stefan Olander says, ‘You’ve got to be interested in people. That way, you can actually learn what it takes to be interesting to them.’ I could kiss him! This stuff is so often dressed up as rocket science, but it really is that simple and this man is confident enough to say it.

With the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, we found that when you dig into what matters to women who, yes, had some connection to cancer – but who are also juggling jobs, kids or grandkids, parents needing support, clothes that need washing, what everyone’s having for dinner tonight, help with homework, making ends meet, taking the dog to the vets…  Surprise surprise, it’s a little time for themselves doing what brings them pleasure: seeing the people who warm their lives, who they laugh and cry with through the ups and downs of life – their friends.

So how does a coffee morning serve busy women without much time for themselves? It gives them a chance to make time for what really matters: their friends, a good soul-nourishing chat, and helping people affected by cancer.

Macmillan gets people. They don’t feel the need to bang their chests from a podium while they sing about themselves. They’re about bringing everyone together to look after people affected by cancer, and that means going to where that ‘everyone’ hangs out, in real, often messy, complicated lives, and giving them some way of getting involved while making their life easier, or richer or more pleasurable.

The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning now does all that. By dangling a gorgeous excuse for getting together with friends and for getting to know people you might be a bit too shy to ask round for dinner. It speaks to what makes most women tick.


The tone of the materials we developed for coffee morning is friendly, realistic – some women love baking, some hate it, it’s ok if you’re main priority is seeing your friends, or if you are really driven by wanting to help people with cancer. Having a coffee morning is about pleasure rather than fun, fun, fun – these are older women, life is complicated, for some with the closest cancer connections there will have been through some very difficult times.

We turned the focus of recruitment from ‘send for your fundraising pack’ to ‘order your free coffee morning kit’, and inside, or available to order separately, are all kinds of pretty things that sing beautifully with today’s interest in stuff like the Great British Bake Off: a really cute cake stand; a pretty, disposable tablecloth with matching invitations; bunting; cake flags; balloons; and of course recipes. We all love recipes it seems.

Yes, there are things in there that absolutely link a coffee morning with very tangible differences that the money raised can make in the lives of people going through cancer, by raising money for all kinds of Macmillan services. But the point is, it was conceived from the perspective of how to make having a coffee morning easier and more pleasurable for women – and it goes a lot deeper than the superficial ‘eat cake’ – so more would want to do it, rather than just setting out ways of raising money and sending it in.

Charities have amazing opportunities for creating true value for people…

… For those who feel strongly about their cause and just need a meaningful opportunity to draw them in, like being able to write a postcard to the exhausted family living with nothing in a refugee camp, who will receive the emergency kit they are funding. We used this to huge effect for Feed the Children and UNHCR.

… For those with some interest in the cause but who need something a bit more lateral to draw them in, like the very clever Bee campaign by Friends of the Earth, drawing people into its environmental story by offering them flower seeds that will help attract bees in their own garden. Or the even more imaginative scheme from homeless charity, The DePaul Trust, which is providing – for a donation – cardboard boxes for moving house.

People are so sick of being marketed at, but this doesn’t feel like marketing, it feels like opportunities that make life good.