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The Emergence of NHS Charities

This guest blog from Vanessa Holmes, Head of Fundraising at Milton Keynes Hospital Charity, explores the challenges and benefits of fundraising for a hospital charity
Vanessa Holmes, Head of Fundraising at Milton Keynes Hospital Charity

I often think I have the best of both worlds in my job - I work for our wonderful NHS and the charity sector. Fundraising for the NHS is a great mix of raising funds for something close to your heart – everyone of us, at some point in our lives, will inevitably need to use it – as well as knowing there’s a tangibility to the projects you’re supporting.

You’re close to the cause and that’s a brilliant motivator.

Despite this however, the existence of NHS charities is still not widely recognised. For instance, aside from a handful of very well-established NHS charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, would anyone know there are more than 250 NHS charities in the UK?  

Similarities have been drawn between the NHS charity sector and where hospice fundraising was 25 years ago. And it makes sense – both types of charity are place-based and deeply rooted within the communities they serve. As a consequence, they draw a huge amount of their support from patients and families. At the charity which I work for, Milton Keynes Hospital Charity, more than 65% of our donors and supporters have had an experience at the hospital and wish to give something back. (As a bonus, my team and I get to meet many of these grateful patients and families – and they’re some of the most inspiring and passionate people I’ve ever had the fortune to come across).

Moreover, because NHS charities rarely work within the same region, there is so much potential for information sharing, learning and collaboration. We also have our own network and representative body called NHS Charities Together, to support charity and professional development.

But despite there being so much growth and development within this sector, I still can’t escape the question:

I’m a UK tax payer, so why should I donate to your charity when my taxes support the NHS?

I’m probably asked this more than anything else, and the answer is simple – NHS funds only go so far, and our NHS charities exist to fund special extras and enhance the patient care and experience. We fund the nice things that sit outside of statutory budgets. On a face to face level, that’s easy to communicate and I love witnessing those lightbulb moments when people “get it.” But the challenge lies in reaching the people who pass you over as soon as they read the word “hospital” in your charity name.

The NHS is one of the most cherished and instantly recognisable brands in the world, so it can be really hard when as a NHS charity, you need to break away from the corporate hospital brand and promote your own charitable aims and objectives.

One of the first things I worked on when starting in my role at Milton Keynes Hospital Charity was to create a brand and separate vision, mission and values for the charity – to set us apart from the hospital and try to mitigate that risk of people thinking we were replacing NHS funding. This is happening across the NHS charity sector, and I really think we’re starting to invest in the branding and marketing of our charities as separate to the hospitals we raise funds for – whether that’s creating new logos or websites, to changing the tone of voice. It’s really exciting to see the potential being realised.

Because there is so much potential for NHS charities.

NHS charities are becoming more and more proactive with their fundraising and marketing –and I love following Barts Charity, East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals Charity and Oxford University Hospitals Charity on social media, to name but a few.

Did you know that despite the NHS charity sector being seen as “emerging”, as a collective, NHS Charities give an incredible £1 million every day to support the NHS; funding projects and items that make a tangible difference to patients, families and the staff who treat them. That’s pretty special.

So, considering the continuous changes to both sides of our coin, the NHS and the charity sector, I wonder what else is to come? Will NHS charities continue to develop along the path of the highly trusted regional hospice charities or will they follow a different trajectory?


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