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How to have a Happy Christmas

Howard Lake | 19 March 2013 | Blogs

There wasn’t a recognisable theme to the many appeals we produced for our clients this Christmas. No formula, no identifiable look or repeated technique that said ‘The Good Agency did that’. They were for a range of issues and causes, from hearing loss in the UK, to lifeboats, from children’s hospitals five minutes from here, to water sources in communities thousands of miles away.

The one thing that almost all of them had in common was that they beat their targets. Some of them smashed them. Which means they’ll make lots of good things happen. In alphabetical order…

…and all this during a period where income from direct mail, and from donors, is said to be in decline.

RNLI Christmas direct mail appeal 2012

Inspiration and optimisation

Looking back at what worked, you can boil down success at Christmas into two main themes. Inspiration – making sure you have the best possible story to can tell, one that aligns your needs with those of your supporters at this particular time of year. And optimisation – making sure you have the tools at your disposal to tell that story as effectively and persuasively as possible.

Let’s start with inspiration. A great story needs a persuasive, emotional and credible proposition that’s rooted in insight. At Christmas that means adding an extra dimension to your appeal proposition. You need a story that has meaning for the supporter, that’s credibly relevant to your cause, but that also resonates with what they think and feel about Christmas. Is it a spiritual moment for them? A family time for which they’re grateful? Do they want to imbue it with more significance than just spending? What does Christmas mean to them, and how can supporting you help it mean more?

Action on Hearing Loss Christmas appeal 2012

It’s got to be a Christmas proposition that works for you. Not just ‘give a gift because it’s Christmas’ – that’s a category proposition (it supports everyone’s appeals) not a specific one (it supports yours). And given that your supporter is likely to receive a Christmas appeal from every single charity they’ve ever given to, plus a few that they haven’t, standing out is important.

That’s inspiration. When you’ve got that down pat, what can you optimise?


Every story deserves to fit within a larger narrative. That may mean being part of a bigger campaign, being the final chapter in a year-long story, or simply responding to external events. What can your appeal benefit from that makes it stronger?

Save the Children Christmas campaign 2012


Christmas is a deadline in itself, and one which never moves. That means a) some of your supporters are very busy but also b) there’s a reason to add urgency to your appeal.

The best deadlines are, of course, real ones. A change in the seasons that makes starting work on a project essential, or a spike in demand for services.

And of course nothing says urgency like a reminder mailing – and/or email, SMS or voice message. A simple and effective way to boost income and make sure every last supporter who wants to, has the chance to give.

Interaction and engagement

If Christmas means something to you and something to your supporters, now is a great opportunity to have a conversation about it. What can supporters send back that can be used in a meaningful way? How can they add their name, their thoughts or opinions to make their gift more meaningful?

Whatever ways to engage, you need to ensure they’re credible, meaningful and relevant to the supporter, the story and the season.

WaterAid Christmas appeal 2012


We don't want to go all misty-eyed at this point, but there’s simply something magical about Christmas.

You can follow all the pointers above.

You can have a great story that fits with your cause, with what your supporters care about and with the time of year. You can have urgency, integration, interaction.

But your appeal also needs to touch people in a way that’s sometimes indefinable. It needs charm, warmth and Christmas spirit in shovelfuls. It needs to conjure up the spirit of Tiny Tim, of Kevin meeting his Mum at the Rockefeller Plaza, and yes, even of a tall man in tights putting hundreds and thousands on his spaghetti.

That’s Christmas sparkle, and it’s hard to write down what it is – which is the point.

Christmas appeals aren’t just for Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year. But your next cash appeal is just around the corner. And much of what applied to this year’s outstanding Christmas appeals, applies all year round. A great story, well told. Inspiration. Integration. Engagement. Urgency, urgency, urgency.

Make them work all year round, and just add sparkle to make them work even harder at Christmas.

Oh yes, and don’t forget a strong call to action. So with that in mind, please get in touch if we can help.

Reuben Turner is Creative Director and Caroline Gibbs is Head of Planning at The Good Agency.