Communications manager Julie Firth takes a look at how engaging members has enabled the charity to significantly boost its eye cancer awareness efforts and encourage fundraising at the same time.

Can I Help?
We are very fortunate at the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust to be asked this question again and again, usually by those we have supported who are eager to express their gratitude by giving something back.

As a small charity we’ve sometimes found ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place as the time we have available to support volunteers is limited. In the past it was often challenging to see an obvious way to channel the energies of our enthusiastic volunteers and be confident we could offer them the level of support that they deserved. We have had to turn down offers of help for this reason – and have worried about how that might reflect on the charity. It’s a difficult one to justify to the outside world – small charity, low on manpower, turns down chance of an extra pair of hands. Where’s the sense in that? Thankfully, we now have a solution.

The beginnings
At a fundraising ball in 2012, I had been asked to share the story of my daughter’s retinoblastoma diagnosis with guests. I shared the stage with a lady representing another charity also benefitting from the evening. She explained how she was regularly invited to speak at functions in her local community and how rewarding she found her role.

As soon as she spoke it was like someone had flicked a switch – this was the perfect way to involve people with CHECT and help further our work raising awareness. It was a few months before we were able to progress with the idea but before long we had a small team of ambassadors, each with different responsibilities – awareness, fundraising and networking (helping to build up links with other members in their regions).

Event ambassadors
The ambassador scheme really came into its own when our corporate partner Vision Express celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013. We were invited to have a representative of the charity at more than 100 fundraising events at stores around the UK. This took the ambassador scheme to a different level as for the first time we were having to approach members rather than them approaching us to volunteer their time. We had no idea how people would respond to our cold calling requests but we needn’t have worried. The vast majority jumped at the chance to come on board, often stepping way out of their comfort zone to don a CHECT T-shirt, share their retinoblastoma story with the media and cut ribbons, draw raffles, sell cakes and even meet with the VE board members to help the charity out. The response was overwhelming and all age groups got involved.

In their own words
Many of our ambassadors tell us how rewarding their role is. Here are three accounts from Gill, the grandmother of a child affected by Rb, Jenny and daughter Kate, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when she was just a few months old.

Gill Crook

After our beautiful grandson Walter was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma we spent the entire night googling this dreadful disease and found CHECT. Not only did they answer all our questions, they were there for us every step of the way.
On becoming ambassadors we have enthusiastically fundraised and raised awareness wherever we can. The more we talk about the disease the easier it is to live with it in your family and when we were invited to a Vision Express managers meeting in Edinburgh it was very rewarding to be able to explain our experience of CHECT from the perspective of grandparents of a child with retinoblastoma. I am sure they came away with a better understanding of the importance of their support.

Kate Bravery, age 9

I had retinoblastoma when I was 7 months old and the doctors had to take my eye away. Even though I don’t remember it, it was a hard time and my mum says that CHECT helped us.
When I’m doing ambassador work I am treated like a VIP and everyone is always really nice. I feel special and happy knowing the money and the awareness I help others raise will help children in the future because their mums and dads or grans and granddads know what to look out for.

Jenny Bravery

I’m very proud to be an ambassador and to be able to represent CHECT. It gives me a fantastic platform to be able to engage with people and to be able to make them aware of the signs to look out for. I think it is so important to raise awareness and give parents the knowledge and therefore the opportunity to act quickly. It means I can speak to parents as a parent.

Childhood Eye Cancer Trust ambassador Kate Bravery

CHECT ambassador Kate Bravery

Anna Lodwick gets involved with a bake sale at her local VE store

Anna Lodwick gets involved with a bake sale at her local VE store

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust is always on the lookout for more ambassadors – if you would like to help make a difference to the work we do, please do get in touch. Throughout World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week from May 10-16, we are looking for families all over the UK to take part in events happening in Vision Express stores. Get in touch as soon as possible if you’d like to be a Vision Express VIP for the day by calling 0207 377 5578 or emailing graham.price@chect.org.uk