Opinion: The aftermath of Christmas 2: donations

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

So, belatedly, how was your charity's Christmas? Let's hazard a guess: good, but could have been better.

While the ethos of Christmas has centuries of history behind it, charity in its broadest sense predates nailing someone to a cross for saying how great it would be if everyone were nice to each other. But asking why gifts to good causes got left behind in the buying excess leading up to 25 December is not the biggest challenge for charity.

Although Christmas remains the season for charity giving, the strength of that concentrated seasonal flow of funding for charities is obviously also a weakness. Careful planning of direct mail, costly investment in adverts and tightly crossed fingers about media appeals are all vulnerable to news events, postal chaos, international disasters and far more. Problems at Christmas could ruin your whole year. Faced with financial famine or flood, the real challenge of Christmas is how charities can get people to donate again in January and commit to those elusive regular donations that cut costs, permit planning and might just enlarge the static-sized charity cake.

The last big idea for this was chugging. Meanwhile, the potential cash cow of payroll giving looks like it is about to be sent for slaughter, too many charity websites remain free of the risk of online donations and the Giving Campaign is a distant memory: so perhaps January is a challenge too far.

Capitalism could have lessons for year-round charity giving. Take an example: greetings cards. Once stuck with birthdays - its equivalent of charity themed days - and Christmas, is there now any occasion this industry has left free of a forest of greetings cards? Valentine's Day, anniversaries, leaving parties, ill-health, days created for grandparents - all grist to greetings card marketing executives.

And when the cartel that artificially maintains the excessive price of diamonds wanted to improve its own regular income, it invented and spent millions promoting the 'tradition' that men pay one month's salary for an engagement ring. Should charity be at least as explicit about what it needs?

Amid the furore about fundraising costs, it is hard for competitive charities to unite to spend the millions on marketing necessary for a significant rise in giving.

But the essential message for the public remains very clear and simple: give regularly, give more, give now.

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