Earlier this month we spoke with PAPYRUS fundraiser, Dr Nicola Tallis who has shared her fundraising ‘top tips, worries and challenges’ with us after organising and hosting Tales of Youth: The big history night in – by candlelight! in memory of her cousin, Alan.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the fundraising challenge that you took part in?

My name is Dr Nicola Tallis, and I’m an author and Tudor historian. I love yoga, animals, and Maltesers! I decided to organise a big history event at Southwark Cathedral, hosted by myself, which we called Tales of Youth: The Big History Night In – By Candlelight! Twelve speakers (mostly historians) each spoke for 15 minutes on any subject relating to history and youth: Dr Tracy Borman, Professor Janina Ramirez, Helen Carr, Lara Maiklem, Greg Jenner, Dr Jonathan Healey, Dr Joanne Paul, Dr Steve Cross, Professor Kate Williams, Gareth Russell, Nathen Amin and Matt Lewis. We had everything from royalty to women’s history, to comedy, to monsters!

What inspired you to want to fundraise and why did you choose this specific event?

In 2005 when I was 19, I lost my cousin, Alan, who was also 19, to suicide. Alan was more like my twin than my cousin, and his loss left me completely heartbroken – I just never saw it coming, and I felt as though a part of me died with him. It shattered my mental health and left me in a very dark place, and also caused a permanent rift with members of my family. Alan has been my motivation to keep on going really – I feel as though I am living life for the both of us, and I want to make him proud. To mark the 19th anniversary of his passing on 2nd March 2024, I really wanted to do something positive in Alan’s memory – something which I hoped would be able to help others who are experiencing similar trauma and help prevent other families from going through the same kind of devastation. History is in my blood and it’s my job, so I thought I would play to my strengths and organise a big history event that drew on a number of speakers to help raise awareness for this immensely worthwhile cause. I know from experience how popular history events can be, and luckily my venue, Southwark Cathedral, were fully on board with the idea.

Getting started:

What fundraising strategies or tactics did you find most effective in reaching your goals?

I think social media most definitely helped – I filmed several videos of myself talking about the event and why I wanted to do it, as well as discussing who was involved. We also advertised tickets via Eventbrite which brought us more attention.

Were there any unique approaches you took that worked particularly well for Tales of Youth?

Not necessarily unique, but a lot of the speakers were kind enough to share my posts across their social media platforms, and I think that really helped. I also filmed a little teaser video whilst stood on the roof of Southwark Cathedral – I’m terrified of heights, so that was a big deal and really helped people engage and become interested in the event.

What information did you find was useful to include on your event page?

I outlined the fact that this was a one-off truly unique event, where the audience would get to engage with twelve different incredible speakers. A once in a lifetime, and all for a worthy cause. This helped with the ticket sales as we had so many people interested in attending and because of this it was a great success.

Your journey:

Did you find people engaged with your page and donated, if not, how did you challenge this?

A lot of people did – a lot of my followers on social media and my contacts were keen to support me and recognised the need to fly the flag for these kinds of issues. It was an exhaustive effort though – I really had to keep pushing and keep encouraging people to take part – something I was more than happy to do, but it required a lot of energy.

How did you ensure you reached your fundraising target?

I never set myself a target, I just knew I wanted to raise as much as feasibly possible and I think that this helped, as I didn’t have the added pressure of reaching a specific goal. I am so proud that the event raised £4,450.95, this will help to support to many people on HOPELINE247 and I am so thankful to everyone for their support.

How did you go about building a network of supporters for your fundraising efforts?

Luckily, I had 12 speakers to help me with this. Similarly, Southwark Cathedral and the event’s organiser there were brilliant in really helping to come up with ideas and spread the word. And I found my small platform within the community of writers and public history really helpful. Everyone was really kind and really shared the event and what it was all about.

Can you share any tips for engaging friends, family, and the community to support your cause?

I tried to make them feel involved – so many of my friends and members of my family came along to support my event, and that was amazing! My husband and my stepson even worked on the bar on the evening of the event to help out, and my stepdaughter handed out programmes. My friends all knew why I was doing this, so I think sharing your own personal story inspired people to want to get behind me. It’s not always an easy thing to talk about, but when people know why, I think they want to get behind you and offer you al the support they can.

Fundraising can be tough at times; how did you ensure you looked after yourself throughout all your hard work/what self-care elements were included?

Sometimes I did have to step away and take time out to go to yoga or the gym, or even just sit and read a book and have some down time. Going for long walks was a good head-clearer too and giving my cat a cuddle! It’s so important to take time out and focus on yourself for a bit too.

Challenges and obstacles:

Fundraising often comes with its share of challenges. Can you share some of the obstacles you faced during your fundraising journey?

A lot of mine came from within myself. I knew that, for as much as I desperately wanted to make a difference, I’d also find this a difficult journey on a personal level. I was constantly thinking about the fact that, no matter what I did, it would never be enough to bring back Alan, and I was racked with memories that I’d boxed about the time when I lost him. I was also anxious about sharing my experiences and was worried people would judge me and wonder why I was doing this. On a personal level it definitely had its moments. On a more practical level, I worried about logistics of making the event work and if we’d be able to persuade enough speakers to take part (luckily this was a worry that came to nothing, all our speakers were incredibly generous!) Also, the fact that the event was almost four hours long – I wasn’t sure if people would want to sit in the Cathedral for such a long time. Now the event is over I am so grateful that my worries were all overcome, the event was so popular and proved to be a huge success.

How did you overcome these challenges, both in terms of fundraising and personal motivation?

My husband was brilliant at reminding me of the reasons I was organising the event, and of the potential it had to help others – I’m so grateful for that, as sometimes I needed that reminder. Also, Alan was such a caring person that I knew this would be something he would really have wanted me to pursue, so that was a huge motivation for me. In terms of fundraising, I was so fortunate to have the support of Jon at Southwark Cathedral – he never gave up on trying to think of new ways to drum up interest and think outside the box. It was teamwork at its finest.

The challenge:

Did you enjoy your event, and would you recommend fundraising to other potential fundraisers?

So much! It went so much better than I could ever have expected, and I’m so grateful to everyone who took part and showed their support. I’d absolutely recommend it; it is something that will stay with me and which I’ll treasure forever. The speakers were all absolutely fantastic and fully on board with the whole evening – they were so supportive, and it felt like we were a real team.

Did you find your fundraising rewarding?

Definitely. When I began this, I thought that if I could help make a positive difference to one person then that would be the ultimate reward. Hopefully, though, we’ve raised enough to help several people, and I think there’s no greater gift than knowing you’ve been able to contribute in that way. It makes me smile and cry at the same time.

What were some of the most memorable moments or milestones during your journey and the Tales of Youth event?

So, I wrote to the Prince and Princess of Wales to tell them about the event, and their secretary replied on their behalf. They wished us well with the event, and that was an amazing feeling and will be something I treasure forever. Throughout the course of the evening itself, there were so many people who came up to me – who had never heard of PAPYRUS before – who said “thank you for doing this. I lost my nephew/granddaughter/friend to suicide.” It was a real moment where it hit me that so many people have been affected by this issue, and it was heart-breaking. But I felt like we were able to do something to help create positive change, and that’s amazing. I can’t bring Alan back– but I can help fly the flag so that nobody else has to go through this horrific pain.

Can you share a highlight or achievement that made the entire experience worthwhile?

For me one of the most memorable moments was standing on the stage at the beginning of the evening and introducing the event, my reasons for organising it, and a bit about the charity – I just remember looking out at this sea of faces in the Cathedral, which was beautifully lit by candles – and feeling immensely grateful that 400 people had bought tickets to come to this event – 400 more people who are now aware of the important work PAPYRUS does, and 400 people who came together to share a very special evening with something deep and meaningful at its heart. To me, that’s a great achievement, and I feel so fortunate to have shared that moment with everyone who came that evening.

Advice for prospective fundraisers/closing thoughts:

What advice would you give to individuals who are considering fundraising for PAPYRUS but may be hesitant to start?

Just do it! Remember why you want to do it – this matters – and keep that at the forefront of your mind. That’s the only motivation you’ll ever need.

Are there any specific steps or strategies you would recommend for someone just beginning their fundraising journey?

Shout about what you’re doing as loudly as you can, as much as you can, and wherever you can – social media is brilliant for this!

Would you take part in any fundraising in the future? / Do you have any future plans or ideas for continuing your support of PAPYRUS or other charitable causes?

YES! I’ll be flying the flag for PAPYRUS for the rest of my life and would love to be more involved. I feel hugely sad that there’s a need for charities like PAPYRUS, but at the same time immensely grateful that you’re here! I feel as though Tales of Youth was a completely unique event, but I’d be keen to run similar style events at some point in the future – Tales of Youth was more of a success than I could ever have dreamed or hoped, on so many levels.

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