Making Christmas a time for giving

Research shows surprising results on the best ways for charities to reach different audiences.

As Christmas fast approaches, many charities are stepping up communication efforts to secure donations over the festive period, but new research reveals that they may be missing the mark in their methods.

“Charities need to take a lesson from the way retailers and services engage with consumers,” says GMI’s marketing director, Ralph Risk who conducted the study exclusively for Marketing Week: “They need to make sure any message is appropriate and relevant for their target audience if they are to cut through all the media clutter and be noticed.”

Consumers want to feel they are getting value for money, especially as budgets are increasingly strained. Charities that offer something in return for a donation, such as a music concert or sporting event, are becoming more popular.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of respondents say they are more likely to donate to a charity if they also benefit in some way, which rises to almost half (46.5 per cent) for those aged 18 to 34.

“A lot of charity messages are personal experiences or activities,” says Risk. “People are busy and therefore look for something that may give them an emotional or physical connection, 
so they can get something out of it as well.”

Another way that can be done is through personal recommendations or requests for donations. Almost a third (30 per cent) of people who have donated to charity in the past 12 months say they prefer to be contacted via family 
or friends.

“People have instant engagement with their friends and relations as they are talking to someone they know and trust, so immediately one barrier is removed,” explains Risk. He cites Movember – the charity that asks men to grow a moustache in November to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer – as an example.

He says: “Consumers effectively become brand ambassadors for the charity, so rather than having one voice it has thousands of voices, all talking quietly to people that know and trust them.”

But this type of fundraising must be supported by more traditional media because if people do not know what a charity stands for they will be less likely to donate. Appeals across nearly all types of media are less popular than they were five years ago, so charities need to choose what they do wisely.

However, campaigns able to use many types of media may do well, including last week’s Children In Need, which raised £31m, £5m above last year’s total.

TV is still the most popular method of communication with 57 per cent of consumers happy to receive information in this way, however this is down from 63 per cent in 2011 and 69 per cent in 2008.

Similarly, the relevance of radio communication has fallen from 44 per cent two years ago to 39 per cent today, and those happy to be contacted by street collectors has dropped from 46 per cent in 2011 to 41 per cent.

“We work with Fairy as many of its customers have children the same as our ‘Wish’ children

A breakdown by age group finds radio and email have fairly universal appeal across all ages, while TV and street collecting are most popular among those over 35, and surprisingly, campaigns via post are most appealing to 18- to 24-year olds, although this is not the case for charities including the Dogs’ Trust

The majority of consumers (82 per cent) have been approached by a charity representative on the high street or in a shopping centre. Of those, 39 per cent have stopped to listen or complete a survey, but this is notably fewer than in 2011 when 49 per cent chose to interact.

Of those that stopped, 15 per cent committed 
to a monthly direct debit. Despite being effective, this method of fundraising is viewed negatively with 70 per cent of consumers finding it ‘pushy’, ‘annoying’ or ‘intrusive’.

Although 58 per cent say it does not affect their overall impression of the charity, 39 per cent say it would make them think more negatively about the brand in future.
Consumers that are aware of recent media reports about charity executives earning more than £100,000 a year are also likely to view those charities in a less favourable light.

If charities cannot explain why staff receive 
high salaries, donations could be put at risk 
since 41 per cent say they will stop donating and 25 per cent may consider cutting support, while 
16 per cent will reduce donations or consider doing so. Only 10 per cent say it will not affect their support.

As a result, Risk says it is up to charities to be more transparent and explain why executives might warrant such a high salary, what they 
do and where donations will be going, so consumers feel they are getting good value 
for money, which should help alleviate some of 
the concerns.

He adds that consumers will often react negatively when asked about an emotional topic such as salaries, but in reality these feelings do 
not tend to have a direct affect on donations.

The fact household budgets are becoming increasingly tight is the main reason people are giving less, according to the survey – 27 per cent admit they have either reduced the amount they donate or stopped giving.

Among those donating less, 89 per cent say it is as a result of the recession, and 84 per cent of those who have stopped donating say it is because they can no longer afford it.

“The economic climate has put a squeeze on everyone financially, not just charities,” says Risk, “but when there is a squeeze it is one of the easier expenses for consumers to [limit].”

Even when times are tough, people still want to feel they are contributing in some way, which has led to an increase in volunteering and goods being donated to charity shops.

A third (32 per cent) of volunteers are doing more than they were last year, and of those that give to charity shops, 20 per cent are donating more.

“Although people feel they can’t commit to 
a financial contribution, they still want to help charities so are looking for other ways to do that,” says Risk.

A very high proportion (91 per cent) have given unwanted items to a charity shop; 29 per cent have bought things from a charity shop; 21 per cent have attended a friend’s charity event; 20 per cent have given to a food bank and 17 per cent have volunteered in a shop or at an event.

The survey finds that when it comes to choosing which charities to support, the majority base their decision on personal interest (76 per cent) or personal experience (38 per cent).

Ultimately, charities need to understand what the key drivers are for their target audiences and make sure their brand messaging meets these expectations, while at the same time being open and upfront about where funds are going.


GMI’s charity research is compiled from two surveys. The first is based on the views of 1,042 consumers and plots the changes in attitude today compared to the same survey in 2011 and 2008, which had 1,976 and 1,000 respondents respectively.

The second survey looks at the views of 993 respondents, all of whom have donated or made a contribution to charity over the past 12 months.

Marketers’ Response


Adrian Burder
Marketing director
Dogs Trust

We find one of the most effective ways of communicating with donors is through our magazine, which we send out three times a year.

It’s incumbent for us to let our supporters know what we’re doing with their money.

Christmas is a big time of year for securing donations. We also get people thinking about our ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ message, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

As part of our new TV commercial, we’ll be asking people to text donations. We are always looking for new ways of fundraising because donors change. We find that younger people aren’t responding to direct mail anymore, but we’ve 
still got to get through to them and mobile 
seems like the best way to do it.


Amanda Williams
Director of fundraising
Make-A-Wish Foundation

We have a few different target markets, families being one, that donate to us in lots of ways.

We have been working with Fairy for the past 10 years, which we find is a great way to reach people as many buying Fairy have children the same age as our ‘wish’ children. To celebrate the anniversary Fairy has launched a TV campaign featuring Sean Bean. It helps us in terms of awareness because we could never afford to do an ad of this sort by ourselves.

This year we are also including a text donate option for the first time, which will give us 
access to a wider audience. It means we can 
get more donors on board and hopefully keep them long-term.

Memorable campaigns

  • Forty-four per cent of consumers name a specific charity campaign that was memorable enough for them to make a donation.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support (10 per cent), Cancer Research UK (9 per cent), Help For Heroes (8 per cent) and The Poppy Appeal (6 per cent) have the most memorable campaigns, according to the survey.
  • Twelve per cent of respondents name a recent charity campaign that put them off donating to that organisation.
  • The four most mentioned are Oxfam (16 per cent), Red Cross (10 per cent), RSPCA (8 per cent) and The Donkey Sanctuary (6 per cent).



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