Dawn Varley: The Big Give needs to be bigger, but I like it

A dedicated push on all channels could maximise the impact of the campaign, writes the fundraising consultant

Dawn Varley
Dawn Varley

After the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, expected to pull in about £8bn of sales over the four-day period, the zen-like calm of The Big Give’s Christmas Challenge arrives today.

From noon until noon next Tuesday, a matched-giving bonanza takes place in which more than 500 charities will attempt to double online donations through the support of "Charity Champions" such as the People’s Postcode Lottery, the Waterloo Foundation and many anonymous major donors.

The Christmas Challenge began in 2008 when Sir Alec Reed, founder of the Reed employment agency and chair of the Reed Foundation (a major funder for the project), became frustrated about the lack readily available information on charitable causes he wanted to consider. Since then, the challenge has raised more than £78m for 2,800 charity projects. Last year there were a record 17,000 donations, raising £7.2m for the 300-plus charities involved. This year there are more than 500 projects to be funded.

There’s no doubt that a lot of good can be done with £7.2m, but against the shop-aggedon-driven £8bn of sales from last weekend does the attempt at doing good really matter?

Too damn right it does.

What we shouldn’t do is compare the two events. They are very different beasts (the first one certainly is a beast), powered by incomparable marketing budgets and appealing to very different human drivers. So let’s forget about the shopping frenzy of the weekend and look to the good stuff of the Big Give’s Christmas Challenge.

Just looking at the names of the charities involved in the challenge quickly reveals that it’s mainly small to medium-sized organisations that benefit. The Captive Animals' Protection Society, which reported income of just over £73,000 in 2016, has a project to raise £2,000 (matched by the Reed Foundation) to raise awareness of the unnecessary stress caused to animals used in Christmas shows and displays.

At the larger end of the scale, Fitzroy, a £27m charity that supports adults with learning disabilities and autism, has a target of £4,000 (matched by the Hospital Saturday Fund) to help its Love4Life, providing people with help to build social and personal relationships in safe environments.

A great thing about the way the Christmas Challenge operates is that it requires the charities that apply to really consider their ask. Each project has to set out in detail the need, aims, impact and budget, and to give background information about the organisation and answer the question "why us?" Individual giving fundraisers will recoil at the idea of such restricted funding, but other trust and foundation-focused colleagues can do this in their sleep. And for smaller charities that might never have had to do this, it’s a great training exercise.

But success won’t come just because your charity has a great project – marketing is key. A savvy charity will have already given supporters a heads-up on social media, or on e-newsletters, that this is coming. This not only helps to line up donations, but also shows how the organisation is working to maximise donations and impact. A dedicated push on all possible channels during the week is also key, not forgetting of course to update supporters and the matching foundation on the impact after the event. With some planning and promoting, your project could really rise to the Christmas Challenge.

Dawn Varley is a fundraising consultant. The Christmas Challenge from the Big Give runs from 28 November until 5 December

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