It was early December and I had been in my first ever fundraising job for a small charity for 4 months. My Director plonked himself at the edge my desk and asked “so how can we raise £10,000 this Christmas?” We had a newsletter list of 150, no real social media following and 3 regular givers. After a panic and a cobble together of images with a weak message, it was no surprise that our charity Christmas appeal was a flop. I vowed that next year things would be different. Our beneficiaries deserved, and needed it to be.

I started to learn about the big charities and how they approach their charity Christmas appeals. What I learnt very fast is that they start preparing for these months in advance, and the key is in research, testing and strong content. So, I decided to take advantage of the huge amounts of money they had invested into refining these processes and replicate them, but on a small charity budget. Here’s how.

1. GET THE SUPPORT OF THE TEAM – Before you can start, you need to get the support of your CEO, Trustees and your team. This can feel like a slog, but you really need to get them behind what you are trying to achieve before you ask for a campaign budget or the time to spend on developing it.

2. START POSTING AND SHARING ENGAGING ORGANIC CONTENT – You need to build trust with your supporters now, before you make an ask. Tell them about what you do, introduce them to your beneficiaries, talk about the difference you make. NO ask, just focus on naturally building your following, subscribers and network by making more people passionate about your amazing work. The small charity PID UK have done a great job at this, sharing stories of their beneficiaries recently.

3.PICK UP THE PHONE – Start having conversations with donors, supporters, volunteers and staff about why they support you. What it is about your work that they think is important. Analyse the feedback and decide what the most common or compelling reason for support is. This information is what you will build your appeal on.

4. FIND A STORY – Using the feedback from your conversations, find a story about a single person linked to your charity that communicates your chosen message. I could go into so much more detail about the importance of storytelling, but instead I implore you to read Ken Burnett’s book ‘Storytelling Can Change The World‘ and to listen to Rob Wood’s brilliant podcast Fundraising Bright Spots.

5. TEST AND REVIEW – Once you have your story, you need to put together some content to test. I would recommend taking two key quotes that capture the emotion of the story and find an image that matches the quote. If you don’t have any images, you can get free stock ones from websites such as Unsplash. Include a link to your website or a clear call to action that you can use to analyse results.

Choose a small number of supporters or subscribers and split the list in half. Send option A and option B to each via a free mailing service such as Mailchimp and use their reporting tools to see which is more successful.
For Facebook testing, investing just £100 can get you great results by running 6 Ad’s. 2 different messages, on 3 different images. Target to 50,000 people who have liked your page or similar charities pages and leave to run for 2 weeks.

6. CREATE YOUR CONTENT – Now that you have some data and a better understanding of what resonates with your potential supporters, start planning you campaign content. Video content is by far the most engaging. However, if this is not an option, images can have great results, provided that they are authentic and have been tested. Stick to the messaging that you know will work from your testing results.

7. BUILD A STRONG BASE – A successful campaign isn’t just about the video, or that amazing image, it’s the foundations underneath it. Along with your social media campaign, put together a strong appeal email and/or letter to your current supporters. Include your testing messaging, video or image, but remember these are people who are already warm to your work, so adjust the ask accordingly. Lisa Sargent is an absolute genius at putting together appeal’s, it’s well worth looking at the fantastic examples on her website.

9. YOUR DONOR JOURNEY – Before you launch your campaign, you need to make sure that your supporter has a positive experience. Is it clear how to make a donation on your website? How will they be thanked? If they have given permission, how will their data be stored? How will you demonstrate the impact their donation has made? How can you engage them further? These all need to be in place before you make the ask.

10. LAUNCH – You’ve done your research, your testing, have amazing content and an engaging donor journey. Congratulations. Now, where are those mince pies?

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