Depaul UK: Our charity queued for days to buy an iPhone 6, then sold our place on eBay

by Joseph Howes – executive director of fundraising and development at Depaul UK

[Original article from The Guardian here]

Iphone 6 queue

Depaul UK, which works with young people who sleep on the streets, had to act fast to make the stunt work. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP

The life of a fundraiser is certainly never dull. Last week, I took my place in the queue outside the Apple store on Regent Street in central London ahead of hundreds of iPhone junkies. Everyone was camping out to be one of the first in the UK to get their hands on an iPhone 6. But my team’s place in the queue was never meant for us: it was to be auctioned off on eBay. The highest bidder would come down and take their place just before the Apple store opened on Friday morning. We Brits do like a good queue but how much would someone be willing to pay to avoid having to rough it on the streets?

Depaul UK works with hundreds of young people who sleep on the streets across the country every year. When a couple of our team from Publicis (our amazing pro bono communications agency) walked past the Apple store on Monday morning, they saw the start of the queue of iPhone-lovers preparing to spend four nights sleeping rough.

They called us to discuss the idea of joining the queue, and between us we made it happen in a couple of hours. Most of these people were going to get a reward for their rough nights out; many young people who are forced to sleep rough across the country are not so lucky.

So, brilliantly, we made something out of nothing and sold our spot in the queue for £570 on Friday morning. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers standing in line.

It wasn’t really about the money though. Many will have thought, “what a lot of hassle for such small financial gain”. For a medium-sized charity, we have a small amount to spend on fundraising and communications. Our brand awareness is very low and does not reflect our amazing work with young people across the country and our passionate, incredible staff. We owe it to both of them to get their message out.

We may not be big, and you may not have heard of us, but we can use our size to ensure that we‘re agile and can make things happen swiftly. We want to be innovative in our thinking and show how passionate we are. We’re ready to take on any challenge that will help us to win column inches to highlight an important message. We got our message out in the Sun twice, the Independent, Huffington Post and social media around the stunt went crazy.

Our website received a 300% lift in hits by the end of the week. If we can keep doing this you’ll be hearing a lot more about our work and what some young people face out there every night.

One of our other innovative fundraising ideas is the Depaul Box Company. We sell cardboard boxes to people who are moving house and all the profits go to the charity and ultimately help a young person move off the street. To avoid relying on donations we wanted to think like a business.

The aim of selling our spot was to get the public thinking about young people sleeping in unsafe places. I am really proud of the coverage our idea received across broadsheets, tabloids and on social media. Job well done and we will be back with more soon, you can count on it.