Lessons learned from the Salamanders Charity Army

Well, with the launch of a new charity army being mooted by @vidpui and @nerodine , I thought this might be a really good time to go through everything I learned by doing the Salamanders Charity Raffle back in 2015.  I’ve mentioned some of this on Twitter recently, but going through it step by step might help others looking at doing a big hobby charity event.

First, be aware it is a pretty major commitment in terms of space, time and money, and once you get other hobbyists involved, backing out isn’t really an option.  You have to be damn sure and have the enthusiasm, time, and financial ability to see the project through to completion.

Space, time and money?  Isn’t it for charity?  Won’t people be doing things for free?  Well, if you are putting together a charity army, you’ll need to store the finished minis somewhere as you gather the completed minis from the community.  You’ll need acres of time chasing hobbyists, co-ordinating who is doing what mini, reaching out to stores for support, setting up and ensuring the legality of the raffle or auction, reaching out to hobby media to ensure the project is spread as widely as possible.  And in terms of money, you’ll need to travel to meet hobbyists, post minis around the world, and probably donate a fair few models for painters to kickstart the process.  Its not a trivial task.

Second, you need a cohesive theme for the project.  We were lucky in many ways, as the  concept tied really neatly together from a random twitter discussion.  Salamanders are the most humane and kind of the various marine armies, and the green themed with the WAAC colours (our chosen charity – Wargamers All Against Cancer) raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK.  It also allowed standard marines to be donated, and lots of people had extras they weren’t using, or could impulse buy donations in stores easily.  In addition, Salamanders are pretty well liked by people in general, but aren’t a common army to see on the tabletop – that made them really desirable as an army for people to want to buy raffle tickets.  If you pick a more niche army, or one that some people more actively dislike, you’ll sell less raffle tickets.  Eldar, for example.  I love them, but some hate them.  Fewer people will have extras lying around to donate, and people who don’t like pointy ears won’t buy raffle tickets for them.  

Its surprisingly hard to get a good theme, because the enthusiasm in the early days will be painters who want to donate and paint what they think will be fun.  People with different skill levels will want harder or easier colours.  People have preferences for different paint ranges.  They certainly won’t be thinking of what people, especially gamers not painters, will want to buy raffle tickets for.  You need to get a theme that captures that enthusiasm and has sales appeal, with ideally a tinge of nostalgia.

Next, be aware that there will be problems!  It seems obvious, but you’ll be dealing with volunteers, who will forget things like posting minis.  Some people will get very excited and promise more than it turns out they can afford – and if you’ve promised a big ticket item as part of the army, you’ll either have to hope the winner is understanding or make up that shortfall.  In the case of the Salamanders army, we had two big vehicles promised that never materialised in the end, the charity raffle side of things got kicked off early by a mistake in co-ordination with the WAAC side, and at least one unit of troops got lost in the post.  Its going to happen.  Make sure your timescales have plenty of overruns, and that you are communicating clearly with everyone in the projects and on the charity end.  If discussing the contents of the army publicly, make damn clear that its subject to the donations and can change at any point.  You’ll also probably experience a few interpersonal issues.  Some hobbyists simply don’t get on with some others – there are certainly some on twitter I find difficult.  Who will be most valuable to the project?  Who do you prioritise?  I’d always recommend prioritising reliability, enthusiasm and interpersonal skills over big donation promises or pushy people trying to dictate the project.

In terms of a charity raffle, its pretty safe in the UK to run one as long as, oddly enough, every ticket is the same value.  If you sell them at £2 each or 3 for £5, you can fall afoul of the law pretty quickly.  We made that mistake on the Salamanders raffle initially, and I ending up donating extra personally to cover each of the early mistaken amounts to keep it consistent.  You have to try and ensure you don’t fall foul of international participants violating their local laws, so you need the blurb to at least say this is down to the individual.

How will the prize get to people?  If international chaps are involved, a full army can cost a lot to ship?  Will you absorb that personally?  Suggest shipping costs for international winners?  Suggest handing the models over at a meet up (which is how we delivered the Salamanders in the end).  If you haven’t worked that out early on, once people are buying tickets you can’t easily spring costs onto them.

One tip that made a massive difference to the Salamanders charity raffle was down entirely to @paintysim‘s knowledge and picking up the slack when I was struggling to keep the project going – she, without any exaggeration, saved that project and probably doubled the final charity total.  She reached out to stores, and arranged for them to sell tickets and display some the fantastic army in store, as well as significantly increasing the scope of the project with their donations.  Of course, it helps them in terms of publicity, and you’ll have to absorb costs travelling to stores and sorting stuff out – and if you reach out to multiple stores, how will that be handled?  Where will you draw the result?  Will it promote all the stores fairly?

Ensuring an overall look and feel by basing the models consistently really helps …. but you’ll need to base up a heck of a load of models coming in from all over.  Again, time, costs arranging meet-ups to do it, that wasn’t insignificant (and for the Salamanders army, again down to @PaintySim organising it all).

You need to keep the wider community involved and enthused at every stage, or they’ll just forget about it.  So you’ll need to maintain something like a form of blog, co-ordinating project reports and pictures from everyone involved in the process to build excitement for the amazing army being put together.  You’ll need to target bigger names among the painters if you really want to get a few top end pieces to really excite hobbyists to buy tickets as well as gamers after a painted army to play with, and a lot of painters don’t have spare resources.  You’ll need to provide the minis in many of those cases, and you’ll have to track offers of donations of minis to match against offers of minis to paint.

Timing wise, you want to allow plenty of time for donations and minis, and also allow time for raffle sales.  Ideally you want to time the draw away from major national or hobby events, otherwise interest will be significantly lower.  Overlapping sales with the army production period can be risky if parts of the army fall through, but may be necessary if timescales slip.

It is a major effort and a lot of work.  But seeing the community all pull together for you as you do something like this is tremendously rewarding too.





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