Fundraising News: Case study - Centrepoint doubles its festive cheer

Francois Le Goff

Summary: Centrepoint's Countdown to Christmas 2004 appeal raised around £270,000, the most ever raised by the help-the-homeless charity at Christmas. It was boosted by support from several companies that donated the money they saved on their Christmas card budget.

Background: In 2003, Centrepoint raised £130,000. Previously, its Christmas appeals were sent by direct mail to regular donors, together with some cold mailing.

It has traditionally focused on the story of specific residents in the many houses and night shelters that the charity provides for ex-offenders, young single parents and runaways.

Last November, Centrepoint decided to launch a broader appeal to raise awareness of the 600 young people it accommodates each night across London, and used new approaches such as text messaging and press ads to reach a wider audience.

The appeal, Countdown to Christmas, aimed to raise £209,266, the precision of the figure suggesting that the charity knew exactly what it wanted to achieve.

How it worked: An ad placed in The Guardian 26 days before Christmas provided both real-life stories and figures about young homeless people. It included a detailed breakdown of the cost of Centrepoint's Christmas operations, with a table giving examples of what various donations could pay for.

Some 400 posters featuring a young runaway girl were put in the London Underground, free of charge, between 20 December and 2 January. The posters asked the public to make a donation by texting or phoning Centrepoint.

A direct mail was sent to 25,000 warm donors, 1,200 companies and 50,000 cold donors, whose details had been bought from other organisations. SMS text messages were sent to warm donors who had provided their mobile phone number.

Property company Colliers CRE chose to send its clients a small card instead of its usual large one, donating the money it saved to Centrepoint. A picture competition for the children of the staff was organised, and the winner's drawing was used on the card.

Another company, Astar Management Consultants, also made savings on its festive budget by sending an e-card to its clients.

Director Cecilia Wells, who has been vice-chairman of the charity for 11 years, said: "We usually send out lots of cards, often bought from charities. We wanted to find a better way to give, so instead of spending thousands on mailing and stamps, we sent an email explaining that we were supporting Centrepoint, and put its contact details at the bottom."

Results: Wells said her company received hundreds of responses: "We never had any response when we sent Christmas mail by post. But people emailed us back saying what a good idea the email was. We don't know how many of them contacted Centrepoint, but if they showed an interest in the e-mail, it might be that they wanted to make a donation too."

Centrepoint exceeded its target by raising £270,928, including a £50,000 donation from Gap. "It is the biggest amount we have ever raised for a Christmas campaign," said Sarah Webb, direct marketing officer at Centrepoint.

"We had very positive feedback from donors and will certainly be taking the same approach for 2005."

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