Samir Patel: ‘We must adapt after a tough year’

17 Jan 2023 Voices

As Comic Relief publishes its five-year strategy, the charity’s CEO discusses how it is adapting to the cost-of-living crisis.

Samir Patel, chief executive of Comic Relief

Comic Relief

In difficult times, the British public often dig the deepest. We are hugely grateful to the public, whose generosity never seems to waiver, and to our incredible partners, for helping us to raise £50m over the past year. Whilst that number is lower than what Comic Relief has raised in previous years, and many charities are finding it more difficult to fundraise, it’s still a significant amount that will make a difference to thousands of lives. We have a lot to be thankful for and proud of. 

Our Red Nose Day campaign in 2022 saw over 10,000 schools take part, a new partnership with LEGO, the BBC One night of TV was broadcast live from Salford for the first time, and we were able to act fast in response to the war against Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis happened during our Red Nose Day campaign, and we’re proud that we were able to mobilise quickly and provide £1.5m in emergency funding in March thanks to our long-standing partner Sainsbury’s, and a further £1m was donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee crisis appeal, which the public backed in the most extraordinary way.   

At Comic Relief, we need to keep finding ways to make it easy to give, to raise awareness of where need is greatest, and to tell stories of hopeful solutions that are addressing poverty and injustice. Crises around the world, a volatile economic climate, and the continuing cost of living crisis have taken a toll on our fundraising efforts. For us and for the charity sector, it’s been a tough year and the challenges will continue. 

Charting a path ahead

We must adapt. Because our work in funding community organisations who are on the frontline of tackling poverty is needed as much as ever. Wealth and advances in society are benefitting too few and are not providing a good life for all. 

The issues around us may be serious, but when we come together and help each other out, we’re at our best as a society. We have always believed that being charitable can be easy and even fun. So, alongside our work to raise money and fund real change and impact, we’ve been hard at work on charting a path ahead. 

We have developed a new 2023-27 organisational strategy that reconfirms our commitment to our vision of a just world free from poverty and which reflects the rapid changes in the world today. We have a clear model of where we can make a difference towards the vision, through alleviating poverty’s consequences, tackling related injustices, and, in a new area for us, addressing the link between climate change and poverty. And we’ll strive to get as many people as possible to see a role for themselves in making change, by engaging through multiple campaigns throughout the year, and meeting people where they are: what interests them, the popular culture they interact with, the formats and channels that they use the most. 

Focus on the climate crisis

We have strengthened our focus on daily poverty, and we’re putting the strategy into action. A great example is our partnership with the Evening Standard and the Independent on a Christmas cost of living appeal which raised the most a campaign has ever raised in a month in the newspapers’ history. This, plus some wider activity we ran alongside the media appeal, has raised £1.7m for Comic Relief to award emergency grants to help people through the toughest times of their lives. This funding includes support for food and meals to reach vulnerable families, warm clothing and energy top up cards, and mental health support for people across the UK.

Using the power of popular culture to drive change is very much part of Comic Relief’s DNA and something that we’ll look to grow and support in other organisations. We have created our first Power of Pop Fund to harness the creativity and the power of popular culture to inspire social change and racial justice. Working with our progressive partners – OAK Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn, Unbound Philanthropy and Paul Hamlyn Foundation – we are committed to investing in organisations led by, and for, people of colour and look forward to supporting more communities and individuals with lived experience of racial injustice to tell their own stories authentically. 

The year ahead will also see Comic Relief make the climate crisis a key focus for our funding work for the first time, thinking specifically about how we can increase participation and engagement of minoritised communities in achieving climate justice.

Red Nose Day 2023

We now look forward to a new chapter for Comic Relief. For 2023, we are aware that donations are hard to come by with so many donors struggling themselves. But we are hopeful, and full of determination. We are Comic Relief, after all, and we’ve never shied away from thinking big and bold. We have Red Nose Day 2023 just around the corner which will see the launch of a brand-new Red Nose that will be very different to anything anyone has ever seen from us before. We’re also reigniting our beloved Sport Relief brand, with some surprises in store for the summer. 

We’re on a journey, and we’re at the beginning. We need to keep refreshing what we do, keep listening to and learning from our audiences and stakeholders, and keep collaborating with those we work with to help save and improve more lives in this country and across the world. 

Samir Patel is chief executive of Comic Relief 

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