Christmas fundraising series: Is a Covid-19 Christmas still a time for giving?


Christmas is coming, and the goose (like many of us in lockdown), is getting fat – but will anyone be up for putting a penny in the old man’s hat? 

Well, for one thing, the old man is unlikely to be there. Socially distanced street fundraising is tricky to organise, and many elderly volunteers will be particularly vulnerable to the virus that has wreaked havoc on the charity sector.  

This year has been a tough one for fundraising thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. With events and street fundraising cancelled and charity shops closed, the amount of money the sector could lose out on creeps up with every passing week. 

Christmas and giving are intertwined, and typically the season is a key part of the fundraising year. According to the Charities Aid Foundation UK Giving 2019 report, November and December are the peak months for giving money. 

“This has become a yearly pattern, largely due to established fundraising campaigns over these months – these are also the main months for donating with cash,” the report said. 

In December 2018, 36 per cent of people said they had donated to charity at some point in the past four weeks – compared with an average of 32 per cent throughout the year. 

So what does the pandemic mean for Christmas fundraising? 

Fundraising consultant Leesa Harwood says that for one thing, charities cannot treat this Christmas as business as usual. People may be sick of talking about Covid-19, but fundraising campaigns must not ignore it. 

“It won’t be good enough to re-skin the usual Christmas content this year – it’s an extraordinary year and will need extraordinary campaigns,” she says. 

“Relevance will be crucial. That’s not to say that Christmas appeals will need to be about the pandemic, but they will need to be relevant to your supporters’ priorities more than ever this year.”

Christmas is often seen as a time to come together – and, Harwood says, that should also mean charities, particularly when they are facing similar challenges. 

“This could be a vital opportunity to get together and create real change – if charities can come together and collaborate quickly,” she says.

And, she says, charities will need to consider the tone of their appeals very carefully. 

The sector has been hit hard by the pandemic and, as many emergency appeals have been incredibly successful this year, it might be tempting to focus on how much the charity needs donors’ support to survive. 

But Harwood warns donors might not be sympathetic to this kind of appeal – after all, charities aren’t the only ones who have struggled this year. 

“As we go into the new year it will be really important to build a narrative around how your charity will deliver solutions, not how your organisation will be or has been a casualty of the pandemic,” she says. 

And the pandemic won’t be the only problem on the horizon, with a recession looming and the small issue of Brexit still unresolved.

“If we get a bumpy Brexit, unemployment goes up and tighter Covid-19 restrictions, we’ll get a perfect economic storm,” Harwood says. 

“These three risks are still very much in play, so set realistic appeal targets based on consumer and household spending in your supporter demographic, using data and insights.”

In fact, she says, charities may want to consider whether they ask for money at all. 

“Not everyone will be able to give, so think about whether you want to ask for money or just say thank you this year,” Harwood says. 

“As part of a longer-term build you might want to consider your approach and step back from a Christmas ask – instead, take the opportunity to say: ‘We’re here for you.’”

But, she says, just because you don’t ask, it doesn’t mean you won’t receive during the season of goodwill. 

“One of the most successful Christmas appeals I ever ran didn’t ask for money – it explicitly stated that it was a mailing to thank supporters for sticking by the charity during a tough year,” she says. 

“It still broke all of the charity’s fundraising records.”

Over the next few weeks, Third Sector will be bringing you a series of case studies, looking at how different charities are planning to fundraise in the run-up to Christmas, and offering advice for charities that are struggling to plan ahead.


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