How to plan the perfect Christmas campaign

Kim Allen and Edward Tait from Crisis share their secrets for fundraising over the festive period.

If you think the high street starts the countdown to Christmas early, with shops awash with stockings the moment the clocks go back in October, share a thought for the people that work at Crisis. “Christmas starts in January around here,” laughs Kim Allen, Community and Events Fundraising Team Manager at the national charity for homeless people.

Crisis was actually borne out of the festive season, beginning life as Crisis at Christmas back in 1967. “Christmas is vital to us,” says Ed Tait, Director of Fundraising at Crisis. “We welcome over 4,000 homeless people to our Crisis at Christmas centres in London, Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle and Edinburgh. Almost 11,000 people volunteer every year to help make this happen. It is also a time of year when homelessness resonates with the general public. We raise a lot of awareness over the Christmas period, and of course it’s also central to our fundraising. We raise almost half of our income over the Christmas period, and almost all our supporters first engage with us at this time of year.” Who better than Crisis then to offer advice on how to maximise the season of goodwill?

What’s on your Christmas list?

While Crisis has gradually reached the point where Christmas has become key to raising funds, awareness and attracting volunteers, Kim suggests smaller, younger charities shouldn’t attempt everything right from the off. “You need to be really clear about what it is that you want to get from Christmas,” she says. “Whether that’s a campaign, fundraising or a volunteer ask, you need to be sure that it’s relevant to your audience at that time of year.” Ed agrees: “Before thinking about the mechanics, you should work really hard on your case for support: try and make it tangible, with clear impact, and integrated into your overall purpose as an organisation, and present it through great storytelling.”

Pick your channel or channels

“If I were to start Crisis’ Christmas appeal again now, I’d see Facebook as a very good tool for finding a specific audience on a limited budget,” says Ed. “I’d try and build a base of supporters and encourage them to engage in as many ways as possible: volunteering, campaigning, fundraising and attending events, via email, phone and mail.”

Crisis publish across all social media platforms and aim to post at least 20 times a day on Twitter and 3 or 4 times on Facebook over December. If that is beyond your means, then Kim has some tips for how to make your posts count. “Moving images – GIFs or videos – work really well for us,” she says. We have a great clip of people throwing themselves into the water at our Midwinter Swim, which is the most popular thing we’ve ever put out there.” Kim also recommends using actual photographs rather than illustrations. “If you want people to do something, it’s best to show people actually doing it,” she says. And if you don’t have any images from previous campaigns it might be time for Christmas to come early. “While staged photos aren’t as good as the actual thing, they can still work,” says Kim. So it’s time to put away that Halloween costume, pull on your Christmas jumper and prepare for your close up.

While social media offers the cheapest entry point, Kim believes popping something in the post can be hugely influential at this time of year. “We do a direct mail to around 50 percent of households in the UK,” she says. “A lot of the money we raise is as a direct result of this, but even if people don’t donate money to us, it’s raising our awareness in areas that we don’t normally reach.”

Wish it could be Christmas every day?

While it’s certainly not too late to pull together a Christmas campaign for 2017, both Ed and Kim think it might be wise to start working towards 2018’s festive season.

“I think it’s quite tempting to do something just because it’s the time of year when people are willing to give up their time,” says Kim. “But unless you’ve got something solid you’re going to ask them to do, the message could get lost.”

It might be best to use Christmas to note what is moving people, to run smaller events and to capture great images to use in your campaign next year. After all it comes around quickly and you can make every day a sort of Christmas by telling your message.

“If people have a great experience supporting you through the year, supporters will be much more likely to support the Christmas appeal next time round,” says Ed. Not every charity’s message will fit with Christmas. Not everyone will be celebrating and rather than try and shoehorn your message in, he suggests looking at other events such as Giving Tuesday. “It’s a great initiative,” he says. “We saw a clear spike in donations in 2015, but it is something you need to really focus on to make the most out of it.”

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Content copyright © Crisis UK | Registered Charity Numbers: E&W1082947, SC040094
Photographer – Sam Mellish © 2016