Solar Aid BBC Radio 4 appeal

Exhibited by
Joe Burnett
October 13, 2016
Medium of Communication
Radio appeal
Target Audience
Individual donors, new donors
Type of Charity
Environmental, sustainable development, fighting poverty
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
January 2013

SOFII’s view

The BBC Radio 4 Appeal is a weekly radio programme highlighting the work of a charity and appealing for donations. Given the chance to record an appeal, SolarAid brought in author Ian McEwan, already a supporter of the cause, to deliver an emotional and passionate request for support from British listeners and the rewards are still being reaped.

Summary / objectives

SolarAid sells solar light technology to poor and vulnerable people in Sub-Saharan Africa at a fair market price, whilst also providing them with the skills to build a local economy making use of the technology. The aim is to bring to an end the use of dangerous and polluting kerosene lamps. In January 2013, SolarAid was given the opportunity to take part in the BBC Radio 4 appeal. The appeal is a good way for a charity to reach a wider number of potential donors but, as SolarAid’s director of fundraising said, it’s important to make the most of the opportunity given how limited the available slots are. ‘Too often charities get awarded an appeal and then sit back and think the work is done, when it has only just started’, Richard says.

Special characteristics

Keen to ensure they did not make that mistake, Richard and his team thought long and hard about who would be the right person to deliver the appeal. The BBC had told them that listeners can detect in a voice whether or not the speaker is passionate about a cause.

This they certainly had in famed author Ian McEwan, who was already passionate about the cause, as you can hear in this Youtube video: 

The story SolarAid told through Ian McEwan was simple, effective and emotional: light after dark is essential for human development and yet 90 per cent of the rural population of Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have electricity and, therefore, cannot work, study, read, or even socialise after the sun goes down at 6 pm. It’s a powerful message, delivered in an emotionally resonant appeal.

The 2013 appeal resulted in £66,000 in donations and in SolarAid being awarded a second appeal earlier this year. They took the bold step of bringing Ian McEwan back to reiterate his plea and to feed back on the previous appeal, letting donors know the good their money had been put to. This had never been done before and SolarAid could do so because they still have the long-term ambition and mission to eradicate the environmentally damaging, unhealthy and dangerous kerosene lamp from Africa. 


The original appeal meant that 21,000 extra clean, safe lights are now shining in Kenya and Tanzania, illuminating the lives of about 100,000 people. And SolarAid was able to help catalyse the markets for solar lights in both countries until demand was such that they could withdraw their programmes there.