The three things nobody is saying about #nomakeupselfie

It was the fundraising phenomenon that has caught the charity world by storm, the #nomakeupselfie. Check out Ian Griggs’ article about the phenomenon and an excellent Guardian Voluntary Sector Network piece on why it worked.

Both of these informative articles recognise that #nomakeupselfie was not born in the depths of a charity fundraising or marketing & communications team. Cancer Research UK may have made £8m, but they did so because of the efforts of volunteers who took it upon themselves to make this phenomenon what it is.

Yes, that’s right – point number one is that #nomakeupselfie would not have happened without volunteers. They may not have seen themselves as volunteers but everyone who posted their picture did so of their own free will, for the benefit of others and without expectation of financial gain. Not one paid fundraiser was involved. Everyone who made this happen was a volunteer.

That’s one in the eye for anyone who thinks volunteers can’t make a difference. I hope it’s also a lesson for those in the sector who argue that anything worthwhile can only be done by paid staff. Take away the #nomakeupselfie volunteers and CRUK would be £8m poorer.

So, #nomakeupselfie was a volunteer phenomenon. Brilliant. But it’s had the impact it’s had because those volunteers also gave money. Yes, the giving of time and money was inherently linked (point number two). Maybe not everyone who posted a picture made a donation, but my guess is everyone who made a donation posted a picture.

Can we please learn from this and stop talking about giving time separately from giving money? Volunteers are usually the most generous donors but we rarely ask them to give, either because fundraising departments look down their noses at volunteering teams or because volunteer managers won’t let fundraisers anywhere near ‘their’ volunteers.

Finally, remember that I said that the people who took part in #nomakeupselfie may not have seen themselves as volunteers. My guess is that few volunteer managers saw them as volunteers either. Nobody filled in an application form, nobody had a DBS check, or an interview, or had references taken up, or went on training & induction courses.

People took part because it was easy, fun, didn’t require a huge time commitment and it made them feel good.

Point number three is this: we need to change people’s perceptions of volunteering by making their first experience of giving time as easy, fun, non-committal and as rewarding as #nomakeupselfie was. We can do that online. We can do that offline. But we must do that. Then we can get alongside them and see if they want to get involved in other ways too, developing and deepening their involvement as appropriate, whether as volunteer or donor nor both.

There is lots to learn from #nomakeupselfie, but it isn’t all about social media.


10 Responses to “The three things nobody is saying about #nomakeupselfie”

  1. drofsopkcin

    The points above are mostly excellent, but I felt this comment was unfair:

    “those in the sector who argue that anything worthwhile can only be done by paid staff.”

    Who are these people? In my six years working in charity, I have not encountered a single person who felt that nothing volunteers did was worthwhile and that only paid staff can do anything worthwhile. I have worked in fundraising for 3 health charities and as a regional manager delivering services for a charity through over 100 volunteers and 5 paid staff (all 105 of them were crucial) and whatever difficulties there may have been at times, not a single person failed to recognise not just the essential role of volunteers but that our positive impact as a charity would be hugely reduced were it not for them.

    • Rob Jackson

      Thanks for the comments. Glad you liked the article.

      I was careful not to say most or many people. You are correct that some don’t hold this view and I’m glad that’s not the case in your experience. Rather, I referred to those that do say this because they are out there. Perhaps I’m more aware of it after 20 years working in volunteering.

      It’s an observation based on hearing people say things like:

      – That’s too important a job to be given to a volunteer
      – Volunteers couldn’t do that, they are unreliable
      – We can’t give volunteers that responsibility, they can’t keep the information they’d have access to confidential
      – We need to pay people if we want them to be more competent, professional, skilled etc. (ACEVO’s classic position that we get better trustees – volunteers – simply by paying them

      I’m sure others could give you examples too.

  2. Michael Naidu

    Taking a photo of yourself (which some people do many times everyday for fun) and texting a donation is volunteering? Lets say it takes 2 minutes to do this, is that really volunteering you time? I kind of think that this article devalues the efforts of the thousands of volunteers who give up hours, days if not weeks supporting charities up and down the country.

    • Donna Price

      Microvolunteering is just another way of volunteering (the development of which is fuelled by people with little or no time who are frequently online). It is not to be like-for-like compared to the type of volunteering that requires hours, days, weeks and years dedicated to the cause. Instead it runs parallel as a means to an end. All volunteering engages people to fulfil the goal. This is an example of such things.

    • Rob Jackson

      Hi Mike, thanks for the comment.

      As one of the 20million+ volunteers who ‘give up’ considerable amounts of my time I don’t feel the least devalued by #nomakeupselfie. I think how brilliant it is that volunteers (and I accept they may not see themselves as such) raised so much money for a good cause, that they outdid the efforts of many paid fundraisers. I also feel hopeful that some of those people might have got a brief glimpse, perhaps for the first time, of how rewarding volunteering (or indeed any other form of good cause support) can be and want to do a bit more.

      My last point in the blog here is key (as is Donna’s comment) – if we only see volunteering as something that demands lots of someones time for long periods then we are going to struggle more and more to get people to give time because that model, at least initially, repels people rather than attracting them. If, however, we can give people an easy, fund, rewarding taster and then try and develop that we stand a chance of securing the vital support we might need in future.

      You might find the following useful in learning more about microvolunteering:

  3. Mark Atkinson

    There is no doubt about it, this event has been a triumph for CRUK and fair play to them. I must admit though that I struggle to see it as a volunteering activity.

    If it is, then you you might as well say things like:

    “hopping 100m to deposit a cheque in the bank is volunteering”


    “not wearing your trousers to work and donating £5 to a charity is volunteering”

    I think you have to look at the principal purpose. In all these examples, its about fundraising.

    Yes, people have to give up their time to do it but arguably that is the case of every single fundraising act other than regular giving via DD.

    CRUK’s campaign is a fantastic mass participation fundraising event.

    It has worked for several reasons:

    – It’s fun
    – It’s easy
    – It uses social media to great effect
    – It asks people to give on the back of “NOT doing something” …in this case going without their make up

    I think it basically showcases the need for charities to think creatively about how they engage people in fundraising through digital channels and the benefits of doing so.

    • Rob Jackson

      Thanks for the comment Mark.

      I draw your attention to the fact that not everyone who took part in #nomakeupselfie gave money. Those that did posted a picture, sure, but many posted a picture and didn’t make a donation. They can hardly be called donors or fundraisers as a result. Their principle purpose was supporting and raising awareness of a good cause, they didn’t define whether it was volunteering or fundraising, a point I make in the article. Perhaps then this is a campaigning phenomena instead and nothing to do with fundraising, that was just a happy by-product?

      You also seem to have fundamentally misunderstood the #nomakeupselfie phenomena. It was NOT Cancer Research UK’s campaign. It wasn’t a campaign by any organisation. That’s a big part of why it worked as noted by the commentators I link to at the start of my blog post.

      A point I also make is that giving time and money can be inherently linked, often as a way of multiplying the benefit to the good cause. I wonder then why fundraisers would be so quick to dismiss this as volunteering? Do fundraisers not want to maximise the support their organisations receive? Is it really that disconcerting to think outside the box and consider how increasingly popular forms of volunteering such as microvolunteering can be harnessed to generate more support?

      Having focused on where we disagree, I’m pleased to see you agree with the reasons why I think it worked – fun, easy, non-committal, online etc.. And, whilst I also agree with your final statement – “I think it basically showcases the need for charities to think creatively about how they engage people in fundraising through digital channels and the benefits of doing so” – I think
      that if this is all we learn from #nomakeupselfie then we are missing a great deal that could really benefit organisations in future.

      • Mark Atkinson


        Thanks for the reply.

        I think there are a couple of other points to make on this.

        1) The impact of peer pressure. Whilst no one has the stats, it is clear that the viral effect of this initiative was partly about “friends asking friends” to do something. I think that partly explains why some people did not make a donation…they were not looking to support the campaign per se…but they were looking to be part of the crowd and demonstrate their involvement. This is fine as the activity still reaped the rewards in terms of exposure.
        2) In terms of whether it was a campaign be it fundraising or otherwise, the benefits were clearly 2-fold…money raised and awareness raised. That’s a fantastic mix and most marketeers and fundraisers recognise that when marketing and fundraising come together in an integrated way the overall impact can be far greater.
        3) Volunteering and fundraising have always been a good combo as has volunteering and service delivery. When it comes to recruitment, my personal view is to look for the baby steps first so as not to scare people (unless they have expressed a preference to jump in with both feet). So yes, microvolunteering is a good thing to then build upon.
        4) What’s the strongest mix…? To me, that is the volunteers who do both service delivery and fundraising in their local communities with appropriate levels of autonomy to define the local need and to determine how they wish to generate the funds to meet it.

  4. Chris Cox

    “Can we please learn from this and stop talking about giving time separately from giving money?” Hear here! I use the phrase ‘time donors’ at work and try to get people to see lost volunteering engagement thorough, for example, poor user experience online, effectively as losing money. However I think that the word ‘volunteer’ is a problem – it’s a bit contaminated with pre-digital associations of physical activity. Also I think we in charities need to realise a key lesson from #nomakeupselfie is that there is often more genius outside the organisation than inside it – we need to be listening more. It may be ‘them’ not ‘us’ who are “making their first experience of giving time as easy, fun, non-committal and as rewarding as #nomakeupselfie was”. If I can be excused a link to my own blog, I’ve written a bit about this in relation to last year’s #mentalpatient outcry over Asda’s Halloween costume:

    • Rob Jackson

      Thanks Chris. I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said there. I’ll certainly take a look at you blog, thanks for sharing.

      The word volunteer might well be a problem but that’s nothing new. In my 20 years in the sector the question of whether we need a different word has cropped up loads of times. I firmly believe it isn’t about a new word but changing the associations we have with the v-word. That’s where initiatives like RockCorps have helped, by showing people who might be turned off the word volunteering that it isn’t all about old ladies in charity shops.

      Clearly this association people have with the word volunteer needs addressing within the sector too given the number of people responding to this blog who seem to struggle to see how volunteering can be something very different to what their comfortable traditional associations suggest.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>