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Do they know it's Christmas?

Michele Madden reports on the first findings from our online community and wonders whether charities are making the most of raising awareness and donations in December. 

“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”  Washington Irving

Well, members of the general public who have been taking part in our Voice of the Donor online research panel seem to agree with this sentiment expressed by Irving. Our new online community gathers a fairly representative sample of the UK public and encourages them to log, photograph and blog their interactions with, and views of, charities in real time during the run up to Christmas.  It turns out they are hearing a fair amount, and have pretty strong views on it.

We’ll be doing lots more in-depth analysis of the findings, but one topic has jumped out very clearly in the first few days. While our donors are seeing and hearing about charities in a variety of ways in the run up to Christmas, TV ads are the stand out method. Spontaneously mentioned and discussed, this method has a disproportionate effect on our panel, given the overall amount of charity communications that are out at this time of the year. Two adverts have dominated it all – can you predict them? - the John Lewis/Age UK Man on the Moon advert and the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army ad is a fairly traditional charity ad with an ask of £19 and a very clear connection to the time of year. There is a strong association in the public’s mind between the Salvation Army and Christmas, partly because of the carols and partly because of the general public’s desire to support homelessness at this time of the year. While some people are resistant to the £19 fixed amount, our donors were very accepting of the overall message.

​"​I found the Salvation Army advert quite touching. I would most likely donate when I next see a collection box... It was an advert showing people who don't have much so don't have a very good Christmas. It makes you appreciate what you have."  Female, 30+ years old

However, the John Lewis advert has dominated. Their advert has caused more of a stir, more discussion and, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, more rip-offs than any other seasonal ad (Aldi’s being one of my favourites…).  Not only does it tug on the heart-strings it also has a charity partnership at its core. Though with no logo or ask at the end of the ad, is the general public aware of its connection with Age UK?

In general, our donor community picked up on the loneliness theme and made the connection between the ad and doing something active with the group represented, namely, older people at Christmas. If the aim of this ad was to create a wave of social support for older people, anecdotal evidence seems to show that it has worked. We are hearing that there has been an increase in calls and support for small charities working with older people – we’d love to hear from you if this is true or not.

"I have today noticed a bill board in Birmingham saying 'nobody deserves to be alone this Christmas' it has made me want to do more to help the elderly particularly this time of year when it must be very lonely for them.” Male under 30

However, for many, the indirect nature of the relationship resulted in a lack of understanding or awareness of who the beneficiary charity actually is, or even that there is one at all. Some donors refer to it simply as the “John Lewis campaign”.

Other charities have put out Christmas TV adverts (Crisis, Dogs Trust and NSPCC are some we have noticed), but given the dominance of the John Lewis ad we decided to take a quick look at which commercial brands had a charity tie-up in their Christmas ads. I can’t call this a comprehensive review but we looked at the TV ads that had been produced by around 40 companies in the first week of December (we didn’t look at print media e.g. Guardian Christmas Appeal). Only two of these had a direct charity link, the Body Shop with WaterAid and the Sainsbury’s and Save the Children tie-up.

Given that Christmas is a time for giving, and given the power and reach that charity/corporate Christmas adverts can have, is this a missed opportunity? Only three adverts with a charity/corporate partnership? It would be great to see more in the future.  What do you think? 

In the meantime I’m off to watch my favourite (and perhaps the most bizarre) Christmas ad this year from Robert Dyas!

Michele Madden

nfpSynergy’s Voice of the Donor online research community on the topic of ‘Charities and Christmas’ is live from 8th - 18th December 2015. If you your charity is interested in taking part in our next online research, please register here or email insight@nfpsynergy.net or call 020 7426 8888.


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