Friday, 19 December 2008

Christmas fundraising helps charities in difficult times

The voluntary sector is devising ways of fighting back against the financial crisis this Christmas, says Pauline Eiferman

The voluntary sectoris heavily affected by the recession, according to a survey this month. Charities are facing higher costs while their incomes are falling. Individual donors are slowly pulling out, and one in five charities reported that they are facing cancellations of direct debits.

Seasonal donations account for a big part of charities' incomes, boosting them in the last month of the year. Christmas is traditionally a busy time for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), says its director of fundraising, Giles Pegram. "We have a special Christmas appeal, and many of our donors feel that families are more vulnerable at this time of the year, so there is always an increase in fundraising."

The NSPCC has been going through a difficult time in general because of the financial crisis, says Pegram: "Right now, the people who have direct debits set up are not giving extra donations and are not upgrading their accounts."

However, many charities are staying positive. They see Christmas as an opportunity, hoping to draw on this time of the year to reinvigorate donations. "We are planning to use Christmas to spread our message and relaunch the fundraising," says Pegram. "So far, we have seen no fall in Christmas donations, but they are extremely important so we must give them specific attention."

Many charities have the same idea. The most famous example of a charity that uses Christmas to boost the incentive to give is Oxfam, with its Unwrapped series of products – gifts from goats to water jugs that are given to those suffering from poverty all over the world. The scheme generates an income of about £8m a year. The charity also runs an emergency appeal around Christmas, which aims to raise about £3m every year.

Every Christmas, the Salvation Army launches its Christmas Appeal to help the homeless, asking for a £19 donation to give a homeless person warm clothes and a Christmas meal.

The British Red Cross is also trying to use Christmas to defy the recession. One strategy is a fundraising initiative called "£1m fortnight", which aims to raise £1m in two weeks leading up to Christmas. The event, which ended earlier this month, raised £1.2m. So although the organisation was forced to cancel its winter gala ball this month, Rebecca Mauger, head of high-value giving and events, said: "considering the economic downturn, our Christmas mailings are doing pretty well."

The charity also launched an innovative initiative in digital fundraising this Christmas, called Pass the Parcel. On the website, donors can fill virtual parcels with pieces of equipment useful to the organisation's aid work all over the world. The parcel is passed on to other donors, who can decide to add more items or "seal" the package and send it to the destination of their choice.

But once Christmas is gone, there may still be benefits to charities following the festive season. A spokesperson for Oxfam also said that January was a very important time for the charity, as donations of unwanted gifts to their secondhand stores rise significantly.

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