Fundrais­ing and activism – Mar­cus Rashford’s cam­paign to save free school meals

At IWITOT UK & Europe 2021, Lianne Howard-Dace closed the show by cel­e­brat­ing Mar­cus Rashford’s superb cam­paign to end food pover­ty in the UK. Here we share Lianne‘s pre­sen­ta­tion in full, so you can learn more about how Rash­ford used his voice and plat­form to achieve huge suc­cess in both cam­paign­ing and fundraising.

Written by
Lianne Howard-Dace
September 09, 2021

I wish I’d thought of Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign. I want to centre my talk on the impact of the campaign. On what made it so amazing and so successful. But of course, it is hard to ignore the vile racism that Marcus and other black players in England’s men’s football team have endured this week and the challenging discourse around this.

I want to acknowledge my white privilege right from the off.

My despair, and my anger and my empathy and my solidarity are real. But it’s also very real that I have the luxury to choose how much to engage in this issue. A luxury not afforded to black and global majority friends, family, and colleagues.

Over the course of 2020, against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic – and its devastating effects on people’s livelihoods – Marcus Rashford used his voice and platform to catalyse a moment in Britain that achieved huge success in both campaigning and fundraising.

I am not very good at football, or any team sports to be fair, but I do have a couple of things in common with Mr Rashford.

The first is that I am also a late substitution. I stepped in to fill this slot at today’s event when someone else sadly had to drop out. That has given me the advantage of topicality, but it also means that I am talking about something very live. I can’t promise I won’t cry. Or swear. Or both. I can’t promise that I’ll get everything right, but I am listening and learning.

My second similarity with Rashford is that I also had free school meals as a kid. And this brings me to the first thing I want to highlight about his campaign: VULNERABILITY

I really grappled with whether or not to share my own experiences with food poverty last year in a blog I wrote. I can hardly begin to imagine the courage that Marcus had to muster to share his, and his family’s, story so publicly, to garner the huge attention and support he did.

A mural of Rashford, in Withington, Manchester where he grew up was defaced with racist slurs on Monday and then covered with messages of support. A quote from him that’s part of the mural reads, ‘Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose’. I find that so inspiring. 

There is a lot of shame and stigma around poverty. And just like the systemic roots of racism, we can’t pretend that that stigma is accidental. It is there to keep people in cycles of oppression and stop those who escape it from speaking out – but look at what incredible things can happen when people like Marcus do. 

Before I move on to a couple other learnings I want to highlight, I want to take a moment to focus on the truly incredible achievements of the campaign:

  • In June 2020 Marcus Rashford’s campaigning forced the UK government to make a U-turn on the provision of free food vouchers over the summer holidays.
  • In October 2020 he launched the End Child Food Poverty campaign. In November 2020 this resulted in the government committing to a package of support worth £400 million which will support 1.7 million children over 12 months.
  • He also partnered with food distribution charity FareShare and raised more than £20 million.

What an amazing impact in just over a year!

The second learning I want to highlight in relation to the campaign is how Marcus Rashford has responded to accusations of ‘playing politics’.

This is a common insult thrown at public figures who try to use their platform for good. It's also often thrown at the charity sector. We are told we should ‘stick to our knitting’ and I think we can learn a thing or two from Marcus about how to better respond to this.

I was really blown away by a TV interview Marcus gave last summer. He talked about receiving a call from the prime minister and his response which he described was both gracious and steadfast. A key statement on his End Child Food Poverty website says: ‘Whatever your feeling, opinion, or judgement, food poverty is never the childs fault. Lets wrap arms around each other and stand together to say that this is unacceptable, that we are united in protecting our children’. There is the stance of a reconciler here, someone seeking to find common ground and not to divide.

Marcus Rashford knows how impactful his lived experience is and he’s not going to shy away from it. On social media in the last few days, he gave a statement, part of which read:

Ive grown into a sport where I expect to read things written about myself. Whether it be the colour of my skin, where I grew up, or – most recently – how I decide to spend my time off the pitch. I can take critique of my performance, but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from.’

I’d love us to show similar levels of resolve, the next time similar accusations are unfairly thrown at charities.

The final thing I want to highlight is BELONGING. Giving, activism and volunteering send a message about the type of world we want to live in. They can create great spaces of connection and meaning and belonging. But if this week has shown us anything, it’s that true belonging cannot be conditional.

Rashford, Sancho and Saka scoring their penalties wouldn’t have protected them entirely from racist abuse of course, but I think it’s fair to say that if England had won the Euro 2020 final there would not have been the torrent of vitriol we saw after the match. Their sense of belonging in the England squad cannot be judged on just one moment and their belonging and identity as Brits, should not be dependent on their ability to entertain and perform.

If you read the messages of support posted on the vandalised mural of Rashford you will see swathes of evidence of how he has made so many feel others that they belong. That they have worth. I think that’s what makes him a true hero, an amazing activist, and an amazing fundraiser.

It’s easy to say that the world of football is over there. But the history of colonialism and paternalism is woven into the fabric of the charity sector. We cannot say that debates about the so-called deserving and undeserving poor have been left in the Victorian era where they should be. And stories of injustice perpetuated internally within charities are being dragged into the light all the time.

So, if we want to be anti-racist fundraisers, as we grapple with systemic racism in our sector - alongside it's ugly siblings of systemic sexism, classism, ablism, homophobia and transphobia - I believe we need to talk about belonging, as much as we are starting to talk about equality, diversity and inclusion.

Inclusion cannot be conditional. Conditional on code switching and fitting in. Conditional on the ability to never make mistakes. To truly live out our values and reach our world changing potential, we need a sector where fundraisers, the people we serve, and donors can all truly belong.

You can watch Lianne’s IWITOT presentation in full below:

About the author: Lianne Howard-Dace

Lianne Howard-Dace - Fundraising Strategist and Consultant (UK)

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