H2Only - RNLI's watertight fundraising campaign: 10 days, 100% water

2 -12 June 2015 was a challenging time. I, along with 6,000 others, faced with the daily trials and tribulations of work and family life with just plain water to see us through - no coffee, tea, wine, beer, gin, fizzy drinks, squash, .

We had all signed up to Royal National Lifeboats Institution's campaign H2Only, an advert for which I spotted on the tube a few weeks previously: It was the man being denied his coffee cup that caught my attention.

I explored the campaign online and signed up albeit nervously, doubting my ability to bypass Costa, and choose water over Sauvignon after the children were in bed, for 10 whole days.

RNLI first ran this campaign last year, when it attracted approximately 4,000 participants, but this year was a first for me. As a participant and marketer, H2Only struck me as a successful fundraising concept for several reasons. So put the kettle on and take 5 minutes to read my review of H2Only.

Simple concept, broad appeal, on brand

Water is a theme strongly aligned to the 'the charity that saves lives at sea' and the rules were straightforward - nothing to drink but plain water for 10 consecutive days (you could still eat as normal). The concept was clearly communicated and the CTA easy.

Rather than requiring physical ability, this was a mental challenge and required absolutely no investment in terms of time, training, knowledge, equipment, or financial input (in fact, you save money)... just nerves of steel, a positive attitude and determination. It also offered health appeal - I was curious as to the benefits of ditching the caffeine, fat and sugar in my favourite drinks.
Target-wise, there are a lot of potential candidates out there. Everyone I spoke to said they would find going 'H2Only' difficult and maybe even impossible, which shows how much we rely on various drinks to get through the day. It may be a first world problem, but it resonates with this nation of tea drinkers.

Tactical timing

The start and end date were very specific, kicking off at 5pm on day 1 (a Tuesday, as a Monday would surely have people falling at the first hurdle) and ending at 5pm on day 10 (a Friday, just in time for end-of-week drinks). Only one weekend was affected, which was certainly a deciding factor for me.

Build up
Participants received 'survival kit' direct mail containing branded tattoos, stickers, poster, sponsor form, lifeguard stories and loads of ideas how to generate sponsor money and get others involved. Perhaps they could have included a flat-pack collection box, as I certainly would have put one in the kitchen at work for those who spared me a thought as they made their 3rd cup of tea of the morning.

RNLI produced sharable content on Twitter, Facebook and email that demonstrated their charitable mission and heroic rescues in action. I used this to enhance my plea for sponsorship to friends, family and colleagues, and it served as reassurance that I was suffering without my perks for good reason.

An app was released close to the start date that counted down the days, building anticipation. We were prompted to share photos of our final drinks and the app was linked to Justgiving so we received notification of every new donation - very motivating.

I tossed my half-finished diet Coke in the bin at 5pm on 2 June, feeling slightly scared.

Engaged and inspiring online community

I needed have been nervous, as there was a strong, engaged community of 'H2Onlies' on Twitter, and we shared our challenges and accomplishes. The RNLI team was ever-present, promptly responding, favouriting and retweeting our tweets. Status updates were easy to share in 140 characters and/or with photos and I felt a real sense of 'we're in this together'.

The app continued a high level of campaign engagement, asking for our photos and ideas to make water more interesting (within the rules which meant no fruit, flavour or fizz!) and a daily challenge.

Visually attractive emails offered tips at pertinent times such as how to stay on track when joining colleagues for after work beers, how to get through the weekend, how to stay strong to the end and planning our first 'proper' drink come 5pm on day 10.

RNLI email: day 5

The motivation worked. Towards the end, Twitter was buzzing with #H2Only participants eagerly anticipating the finish line and sharing photos of their rewards and feeling proud of what they achieved - personally and on behalf of the charity. I admit, it was kind of emotional! My first legitimate drink was a flat white followed by something stronger. #H2Only tweets on day 10 - the final countdown


I smashed my sponsorship target, doubling the amount I set out to raise, and the money is still coming in. On a personal level, I felt healthier and slept better but actually couldn't wait to become reunited with my favourite drinks.

RNLI shared some of their insights with me. There were 2,000 more participants than last year. The hashtag was tweeted over 5,000 times and had 40.1 million impressions. Total amount raised will be announced shortly.

The campaign had some celebrity endorsement and received national and regional media coverage including their Shoreditch pop-up bar, London's first water-only version, which Marketing Magazine also featured.

H2Only also supported RNLI's strategic aim of engaging with a new, younger audience (18-40). I fit that age bracket, and I certainly am more informed and passionate about the amazing work the RNLI volunteer teams do.

The concept, build up, support and sense of accomplishment was amazing. No doubt I'll be going H2Only again next year - perhaps you will consider it too.

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