How to develop a strong Christmas appeal this year

As this challenging summer draws to an end, our focus as fundraisers has turned to Christmas.

It’s hard to know where we’ll be at the end of this year but one thing is certain – Christmas fundraising appeals this year are going to be more important than ever for most charities.

The sector has been badly affected by the coronavirus crisis and for many charities, the Christmas appeal will be a rare opportunity to claw back some of the income lost in 2020.

There are going to be some challenges though. Everyone’s going to be sending appeals and the market will be saturated. What’s more, lots of charities – and commercial advertisers – will be using very similar messages, so you’ll have to break through this. Your charity and its beneficiaries and supporters will have been through (and still be going through) a tremendously challenging and unusual year and still be feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. So, you will have to think carefully and be flexible.

Despite these challenges though, there will be some big opportunities for fundraising at Christmas. People are likely to feel more passionately than ever about their community and the brands and organisations they care about. If you’ve kept them engaged and motivated by your work in the previous months, they may well be feeling a strong sense of commitment to your cause.

So, with some proper planning, it’s all to play for. Here are a few suggestions to help you start thinking about your Christmas appeals:

  • Prepare the ground work – make sure you are communicating with your supporters regularly and honestly about the work you are doing during the coronavirus crisis, how your beneficiaries have been affected and how you are helping them. Keep people engaged in your cause.
  • Don’t wait until Christmas – if you’re waiting until Christmas for the hope of big fundraising income this is a dangerous strategy, as you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. It is much better to maintain and build your fundraising activities in the coming weeks and months so that you’re not entirely reliant on your Christmas appeal income. As we’ve argued in previous blogs, there is a lot of goodwill out there at the moment for charities, so make sure you’re fundraising now.
  • Build a flexible approach to the Christmas appeal – none of us know what situation our cause, beneficiaries or supporters will be in by the time your Christmas appeal launches in October or November. You therefore need to base your approach on your best guess at this point (and we suggest this is to assume that our lives will still be very much affected by coronavirus around Christmas) and map out some contingency strategies for the appeal theme and communications that enable you to change course quickly and late in the appeal if necessary.

When planning the content of your Christmas appeal,

  • Focus on a clear need you or your beneficiaries have, rather than trying to ‘crowbar’ in a coronavirus theme. There will be lots of other coronavirus-related appeals out there at Christmas and your supporters will care most about your cause and beneficiaries. So, don’t try to jump on the coronavirus bandwagon for its own sake. The need is the most important thing – and the thing that distinguishes your cause from all the others out there.
  • Having said that, if your need is related to the impact of coronavirus, don’t be afraid to state it clearly and directly.
  • The same applies to the Christmas theme. Don’t be tempted to cover your pack with snowflakes, baubles and references to Christmas it if it isn’t relevant to the ask you are making. The aim of your fundraising appeal is to show a focussed need that your beneficiaries have that your supporters can help to address. Putting the Christmas theme in front of this may harm your results.
  • Within your appeal, it would make sense to reflect on the challenges this year has brought and how your charity has adapted to them and helped your beneficiaries (as well as staff and volunteers). Acknowledge the role the supporter has played in helping you to continue to help those in need – the solidarity and shared beliefs and values.
  • Don’t forget to tell stories, keep asks specific and tangible.

An important final point – ensure the supporter experience you provide (not just for this appeal but generally) is first rate. It’s been a challenging year for everyone, including your supporters. Sticking by you through this time is remarkable and will hopefully make the relationship between supporter and charity even stronger. Explicitly show and tell your supporters you recognise and value them – both within the appeal (through thoughtful, personalised copy for example) and in lead up and follow up communications. Some may have been unable to give in their usual way/value this year – be mindful of this.