Yes, it really is time to start thinking about Christmas...

Alistair Kelly By Alistair Kelly

The sun’s blazing, pollen counts are sky high, and we’ve enjoyed suspiciously good weather for a UK summer.

That means it’s time to think about Christmas.

‘Fraid so.

But when November and December remain the peak months for giving, the much-loved Christmas appeal is, rightly, a firm fixture in your fundraising plan. And to get your appeal right, you need to start planning now.

Luckily for you, we’re sharing some of the questions we always ask before we start work on a Christmas appeal – questions you should be asking too.

1. How can you make your appeal unified?

The old marketing adage ‘The Rule of Seven’ tells us that your audiences need to see a message seven times before they respond.

Whether or not that’s strictly true, there’s no doubt that multiple messages boost responses. It’s proven that, if spontaneous awareness of your brand is boosted by cold activity, your warm marketing will do better.

That means by executing your Christmas appeal coherently across all your channels and for all your audiences, you’ll amplify your message – and your results.

360 degree thinking is therefore absolutely crucial from the moment you begin planning. Make sure you ask yourself: who are the key people and teams you need to get to the table early?

OK, we get it – as Christmas project manager, you might be wincing at the prospect of a cross-organisational piece of work that feels more like herding cats.

But trust us: a truly collaborative approach to planning doesn’t just mean focussed marketing at the end. It could have surprising benefits for your development of the appeal itself. For example, when we worked on Save the Children’s legacy DRTV ad, collaboration was at the core. And by virtue of having the right people in the right meetings, we unearthed our hero case study, which gave us a truly amazing campaign.

Taking your unified appeal seriously can’t be underestimated.

2. Do you have case study gold?

Unsurprisingly, your hero case study is going to be important. But at Christmas more than ever, your supporters are attracted to those human stories with a unique and moving spark.

Over the years, we’ve learnt a few non-negotiables for your case study:

1) You need a real human connection. Ask yourself: do you long to respond?

2) Your supporters need to be taken on a journey – from need to impact.

3) Search for that unmistakable Christmas element. It doesn’t need to be about gifts or kids (although giving a present to a vulnerable child is a pretty irresistible ask). But your case study does need to tap into a Christmas sentiment: think welcoming the lonely, sharing generously, or bringing light into the life of someone who’s struggling.

Our RNIB’s Christmas appeal a few years back shows you the kind of story you need: our wonderful case study, Maddie. A little girl with sight loss in both eyes, Maddie depended on RNIB’s giant books to read – and as a book lover, there’s nothing she wanted more for Christmas than stories. RNIB’s supporters loved it. Your case study brings your appeal to life. You really shouldn’t settle for less than the best.

3. How can you make Christmas work for your key audiences?

Take note: the best Christmas campaigns consider the needs and wants of your existing audiences. By tailoring your appeal to your existing activity, you’ve got the opportunity to make your retention soar. Think about how your key audience segments hear from you during the year and extend these methods in your Christmas appeal.

For example, when we helped Plan International UK with their Christmas appeal in 2017, we saw a perfect opportunity with their incredible child sponsors. Why not develop a Christmas mailing specific to them?

Working with Plan, we gave sponsors the chance to send a card to their child, a heart-warming way to build on the relationship that they treasure. And we asked sponsors to send Christmas happiness to more communities across the world as well.

Is there a product your regular givers love to receive? Or perhaps you have a membership scheme? Think through your retention programme and how you can give it a bit of Christmas sparkle. What’s the most meaningful action your supporters could take at Christmas?

4. How are you using Christmas for acquisition?

Make no mistake: the Christmas fundraising marketplace is busy. Charities spend, on average, 37% of their advertising budget in December. Yet the festive period is still – as the CAF report shows – the moment when people are most willing to give. That means you need to think carefully about how your campaign recruits new donors.

Be ambitious with your marketing plan – how can you invest wisely in acquisition?

Door drop remains a powerful way to inspire supporters to make that all-important first gift. Explore fun and useful engagement devices for your packs. Items like blank greetings cards and gift tags start a value-exchange with your audience. For inspiration, take a peek at what we did with Macmillan Cancer Support's acquisition mailing.

…but don’t stop at DM.

It’s no surprise that DRTV is a hot topic at Christmas – in 2016, 60 charities ran adverts across TV and digital channels. It’s a hefty investment, for sure, but one which can yield results. For example, the Salvation Army – famous for its Christmas advert since 1990 – showed how your cold TV spend one Christmas could lead to an amazing uplift in warm donations the next.

Think about out of home, too. Commercial brands throw millions into tube, billboard and taxis at Christmas for a reason – it’s peak time. How could you use your Christmas appeal to inspire donors for the year ahead?

By asking these four questions as early as possible, you’ll give your Christmas appeal the best chance of smashing its target.

And of course, there’s more to think about – which is why we’re just a phone call away.

So what are you waiting for? Drop us a line, because it’s time to start thinking about your Christmas appeal today.

Alistair Kelly

Alistair Kelly

Co-founder & Executive Creative Director

Alistair is one of our co-founders. He has more than two decades of heavyweight agency experience behind him and is a fountain of ideas and creativity, particularly around print and fundraising. Alistair brings the clarity to our creative thinking and you can read his latest insights on our blog.