From Save The Children's classic Christmas Jumper Day to Shelter's hard-hitting 100,000 Homeless appeal, seasonal campaigns come in many different wrappings. Alex Goldup takes us on a quick sleigh ride through the world of festive fundraising and asks: what can we learn from successful Christmas campaigns?
“At this festive time of year, Mr Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time”.
- A Christmas Carol
Long before anyone thought of wearing a silly jumper or a funny-shaped bobble hat for a good cause, making the festive period a little bit brighter for people in need was a staple of the festive season.
Nowadays, during this season of goodwill, the field is crowded, the competition fierce, and charities have to be ever more creative in order to makes themselves heard above the festive din.
So what can we learn from successful Christmas campaigns? Is it only the sector heavyweights who can hope to land a knockout blow, or can small charities get in on the act? Can a serious message still hit home?
Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day casts a long, if appropriately knitwear-shaped, shadow across the festive fundraising genre. How can we explain the enduring success of this annual parade of primary colours and questionable taste, now in its fourth year?
Sure, the opportunity to commit crimes against sartorial standards with impunity, for a good cause and – yes – often with the boss’s approval, is a hard one to pass up. But there is more to it than that. The fun and frivolity conceals a sophisticated and creative PR strategy that uses just about every tool in the PR toolkit to generate discussion, encourage participation and sustain awareness. Shareable social media content (in this case a short video starring comedian Harry Enfield)? Check. Corporate partnership with Asda? Check. Events to ensure sustained awareness and create talking points? You betcha. Even Samantha Cameron got in the act by hosting a ‘jumper jumble’ at 10 Downing Street.
A level playing field
Of course, it’s fair to say that this kind of cross-channel, multimedia extravaganza (with a bit of celebrity stardust thrown in for good measure) is beyond the reach of smaller charities. Which is not to say that festive fundraising should be the sole preserve of the ‘big boys’ – far from it. One of the many wonderful things about the internet is the way it has levelled out the field for smaller charities that are prepared to show a bit of chutzpah, creativity and guile.
Enter I’ve Got These Feelings, a crowd-funded Christmas music video featuring a canine star that aims to raise money for animal charities. How successful it will be remains to be seen, but as an indication of how a ‘democratic’ and accessible method of fundraising and shareable (if relatively cheaply produced) social media content can be harnessed for a good cause, it has set a few tails wagging.
From recipient to participant
The ease and speed of social media, as well as its emphasis on interaction, has created opportunities that are there for the taking. This shift, in which social media has turned supporters from passive recipients of broadcast messages to active participants, has been utilised in all sorts of enterprising ways.
Last year, NSPCC, recognising the certain fact that there are few things people like more than taking pictures of themselves, asked people to tweet selfies showing off their bobble hats using the hashtag #bobblehatday – together with a modest donation of £2.
This is, I think, an example of an effective social media campaign – one that makes as few demands on participants as possible, is quick, simple and dovetails as closely as possible with social media users’ existing interests and likes.
Don’t pull your punches
The tone common to many Christmas charity campaigns, however serious the end cause, is one that is light-hearted with a palpable sense of fun – very much in keeping with the positive and upbeat mood of this festive season.
This often uneasy mix doesn’t always work, and some have decided against trying to shoehorn in ‘fun’, instead opting for a tone that is uncompromising and bleak – and all the more effective for it.
Shelter’s 100,000 Homeless campaign is one hard-hitting example. The website is, in many ways, an exercise in understatement. One is struck by the simple image of a child whose life of hardship is implied through subtle visual clues. The copy is concise and direct – ‘100,000 children might not even have space for a Christmas tree, let alone space to sit around the table for Christmas dinner’ – and opts for images (‘the equivalent of four in every school in Britain’) rather than a barrage of statistics.
A reason to be jolly
Christmas fundraising is a long way from losing its sparkle. Yes, the field is crowded but social networking platforms and the ease with which they allow user-generated multimedia content to be harnessed to a good cause has opened the door to small charities that might otherwise be outspent and outmuscled by the sector heavyweights.
In the end, the fundamental ingredients of successful campaigns remain the same – a compelling ask or fundraising need, a rounded communications strategy, bags of creativity and, perhaps, a little bit of luck.
Alex Goldup is an account director in the community and not-for-profit team at The PR Office