Comic Relief Is a Surprisingly Powerful Player in the Global Anti-Poverty Space

In the U.K., Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day has been around since the late-1980s and according to the foundation’s website, “...has become something of a British institution.” Here’s how it works: Every two years the foundation hosts a 24-hour entertainment marathon complete with A-list celebrities and even a few heads of state.

Related: Comic Relief: Grants for Global Development

In 2014, organizers in the U.S. got in on the funny action, launching a Red Nose Day through Comic Relief Inc., an independent sister organization of Comic Relief U.K. The stateside version of the day was smaller scale, with a two-hour live special rather than a 24-hour marathon. In 2015, the inaugural Red Nose Day raised over $23 million that was divided among 12 charities located in the U.S. and abroad. The second annual Red Nose Day recently resulted in an even bigger take of $31.5 million.

Even though U.S. version of Red Nose Day has only been going on for a couple of years, it has already managed to hook some pretty big funding fish, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which pledged $25 for every Twitter or Instagram photo posted by June 1 with #RedNose25 in both 2015 and 2016. Gates capped its total pledge at $1 million each year.

Other major partners—who are also recipients—include Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Children’s Health Fund, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Oxfam America, and Save the Children. Additional recipients of this year’s Red Nose Day fundraising include charity:water, the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban Legue, Boys & Girls Club of America, Covenant House, and Feeding America.

And of course, there's Red Nose Day’s major retail partner, Walgreens, and the celebrities in attendance that not only helped to raise funds, but awareness for global poverty. Notably, Bono, who has over the past couple of decades, become a major champion for the world’s poor, participated in this year’s events.

Bono has a long history of advocating for the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. In 2002, he co-founded Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa (DATA) which is dedicated to addressing the major challenges that prevent Africa from progressing at the same pace as the rest of the world. And then there’s the ONE Campaign, which Bono also co-founded in 2004,bringing together likeminded nonprofits and humanitarian and advocacy organizations to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa. 

Related: Bono

It’s no surprise that Bono was in attendance this year, as his charitable endeavors align rather nicely with Comic Relief’s.

Comic Relief was launched on December 25, 1985, live on television from the Sawa refugee camp in Sudan. The catalyst for the launch was to bring attention to the protracted famine in Ethiopia. For decades, the foundation has focused and evolved its fundraising and grantmaking energies on improving the lives of poor people around the world; reducing incidences of violence, abuse, and exploitation; overcoming inequality; and building economic resilience in vulnerable populations. While Comic Relief is currently revising its International grantmaking program, it has historically focused its efforts on Africa with the main goal of alleviating poverty.

Since it’s founding, the U.K.-based funder has picked up a healthy number of big name partners such as Oxfam and Sainbury’s. Red Nose Day was created only a few years afterComic Relief was established and it has raised some serious cash to end global poverty. Last year, the event raised £1 million, bringing the total money raised from Red Nose Day to over £99 million. This brings Comic Relief’s total fundraising over the last three decades to over £1 billion—all of which is dedicated to alleviation of global poverty and human suffering.  

And although the foundation is tweaking its international grantmaking program, it isn’t sitting on its heels in the meantime. Last fall, Comic Relief, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and the Association of Charitable Foundations gathered more than 30 U.K.-based organizations to discuss funding priorities pertaining to the growing refugee crisis in Europe. The meeting resulted in the establishment of the New Beginnings Fund.

The New Beginnings Fund is a collaborative, pooled fund specifically for the support of refugees and refugee communities. So far, six NGOs have chipped in to create the £500,000 fund including Barrow Cadbury Trust, Comic Relief, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Pears Foundation, Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Rayne Foundation. 

Being keenly tuned in to acute suffering is a major characteristic of Comic Relief. As is evolving its grantmaking in order to alleviate that suffering.