Let’s shake up this year’s Christmas appeal!

Published by Will Tucker on

Christmas is coming and during the next month or so the final edits of this year’s TV appeals will be finished, cold mailings will be sent to fulfilment houses and telephone banks will be priming their festive scripts.  With the recent publication of the Etherington Review and findings that a majority of donors feel pressure to donate more it could be a tough season for fundraisers. For international charity fundraisers it’s even more difficult; 67% of the UK public believe that government corruption makes it pointless donating and international charities are facing increasing criticism of recent reversion to “poverty porn” tactics.

The direct response formula used throughout the year and prominent in the run up to Christmas is well practiced; a sombre, usually male, voice-over will image-20150415-31660-ufi6v7talk about some scene of desperate poverty on screen while melancholic music makes us feel sorry for the poor child/women/patient/victim on screen. A crescendo accompanies a shift in the voice-over’s tone telling us that our £5/£10/£20 gift can make all the difference with instructions on what to do “right now”. The printed and radio versions follow a similar pattern; tactics called out for unethical portrayal of communities and triggering the sort of pressure criticised by donors and Stuart Etherington. Audience insights give us these three tips for how we can move forward in this context:

  1. Dial down the pity, enable potential donors to empathise:

According to research conducted by University College London and the University of Leeds, empathy can be as effective as pity for fundraising. David Hudson of UCL says

“Our research showed that an advert which dialled up ‘empathy’ imagery and messaging performed as well, in terms of both number of donors and amount donated, as an advert which dialled up ‘pity’ imagery and messaging. However the adverts triggered different emotions; the ‘empathy’ advert made people feel significantly more hopeful and less guilty than the pity advert.”

This Christmas emphasise empathy in your appeal and you should raise similar income while also triggering better emotions for your organisation’s brand.

2. Use different messengers:

Don’t let a sombre, male voice-over speak for your work. Luba Kassova from Christmas-Appeal-DonateAddyKassova Audience Strategy recommends a different approach:

“Audiences are looking for two key factors in development spokespeople; competence and warmth. The spokespeople who the public perceive best are front line doctors, nurses, teachers delivering programmes and the people benefiting from treatment, education and other programmes. These messengers are considered warm because they are relatable to people who don’t work in an NGO and credible because of their professional experience and their proximity to the work.”

So, let’s hear from the programme participants; the local people benefiting
from the programmes, the local partners and staff delivering the work which makes the difference.

3. Don’t forget about younger audiences
Angela Cluff has proposed ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ as a new approach for fundraisers. A recent Eurobarometer study for this year’s ‘European Year of Development’ might provide us with a compass point to sail towards; it found that 86% of 15 to 24 year olds believe that donating to organisations that help developing countries is effective.  That’s a whopping 26% above their parents and grandparents in the 55+ age bracket and 15% higher than their direct elders in the 25-39 age bracket. Of course the younger age groups often have less disposable income, but just because some older audiences have more cash doesn’t mean you should ignore the 15-24 year olds who approached in the right ways could be the audience that give your Christmas appeal the edge this year.

Looking for inspiration? I think this D&AD Student Pencil award-winning “It’s a better world without Oxfam” would go a long way to cracking those three tips. It amplifies programme staff and local communities’ voices, puts empathy front and centre and as a great online-platform would work well with younger and older web-savvy audiences.

Will Tucker

Will is a communications consultant specialising in helping organisations connect people with their causes. Will has worked at Oxfam, Save the Children and VSO. He now runs Will Tucker Consulting and is working with the Gates Foundation disseminating audience insights to catalyse greater UK public engagement in international development charities.

1 Comment

Alex · December 19, 2015 at 18:26

Guilt tripping people is not only a questionable way of seeking donations but also has a much shorter term effect. So many people watch an advert on TV, are moved to tears over the subject and then forget within ten seconds of their program coming back on. A better tactic is to give people the feeling that they can help and that their help will go along way. In this situation everyone wins. The recipient benefits. The donor is engaged in the process and can feel truly proud rather than feel at best a sense of atonement.

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