By Kathryn Horsley
Senior Consultant - Analysis
11 November 2020
According to the ONS, there are still tens of thousands of men living in Britain who saw active combat in WW2. We witness their numbers dwindle each year – many now bent double with age but never diminished in dignity.
Then in 2020, we reframed our idea of what makes a hero. The nurse, coming off a 12-hour shift. The care worker on lockdown for months on end, unable to hug his children. The café owner, dishing out meals to the community even as her own business descends into freefall.
Meanwhile, in a climate where our control over most aspects of our life is slipping away, advertisers have seized on the idea of ‘everyday heroism’.
#Stayathomeheroes – the campaign for the charity set up by NHS workers for NHS workers – celebrated the mundane, time-killing activities that became our line of defence against the virus. IKEA’s ‘Everyday Heroes’ championed the less sexy items of its collection – hooks, hangers and toilet roll – that serve us humbly but have now finally had their big close up – even their own Twitter account. And ethical water company One has raised over £12M for charity, inspiring consumers to become ‘instant heroes’ by making a simple brand switch.
The National Alliance for Grieving Children even offers families the chance to download a Hero Toolkit, full of ideas, activities and conversation openers. For capeless crusaders, making small differences – or as M&S might have had it, making ordinary extraordinary.
When in-memory donors talk to us in research, it’s very striking how they never describe their loved ones in terms of the ordinary or every day, preferring open-hearted superlatives: they were the kindest, the most selfless, the most generous, the best in the world. Don’t we all believe these things about the people we love?
No wonder that supporters are so drawn to charities’ in-memory products and services that invite them to heroise their loved ones. Their name on the side of a lifeboat. Their picture on a running back sign. Their inscription in a Book of Remembrance. To believe someone is a hero is to want their memory to live on. As Breast Cancer Now’s tribute fund holder Carmel says of her sister Paula, “this means so much … because she’s still alive when people are talking about her”.
In our stewardship research last year, ALL donors we spoke to were clear that they never wanted their in-memory charity to forget their ‘why’; their hero, who was still front and centre of everything. Yet despite some in-memory products that hit the spot, many charities haven’t yet grasped that love is the life force of heroism. They appear reluctant to talk about the person being remembered, focusing instead on their perceived ideas of benefits to the donor (convenience/ doing something ‘worthy’); or worse still, on their own mission and objectives.
One (very forthright) in-memory supporter recently told me in a research interview:
We didn’t have a perfect marriage. He could be a sod. But I loved every last bone in his body
Her husband didn’t wear a military uniform, scrubs or even a tabard. But he was a hero.