Holiday gifts: a retail approach to fundraising

publication date: Aug 30, 2011
author/source: Gayle Goossen
An aging donor population, increased competitiveness, economic uncertainties and the high price of communication have complicated the task of fundraising. Many organizations are looking for new approaches to fundraising, helping them reach a younger audience and increase their brand presence within Canada. Author photo

Developing a holiday gift program is an innovative way to engage your donors and potential donors. Here are seven steps to help you start the planning process:

  1. Strategic development. If you are unfamiliar with holiday gift programs or are looking to start your own program, consider collaborating with an expert to help you maximize your program. Basic considerations include budget, audience and communication tactics.
  2. Develop the product mix and offer. The holiday gift program resonates with the consumer in your donor. The offers need to be product-based, simple and easy to understand. Gifts should start at a low dollar value ($10). Most purchasers buy more than one gift. Larger-valued gifts increase overall revenue. Your gift mix should be developed in line with your audience mix.
  3. Choose your distribution methods. The methods of distribution depend on your strategic goals. If acquisition is your primary goal, postal walks, mail and magazine inserts are effective methods of distribution. Confining the campaign to digital communication formats will decrease the overall effectiveness.
  4. Maintain your brand in all of the materials. The program should be easily identified as belonging to your organizations. While you may add some seasonal design, the core distinguishing factor is your own unique brand. Copy should be sales-focused and consumer-friendly. The order form should be easy to read and complete. The print material works hand-in-hand with the digital.
  5. Online presence is critical. In many programs, online purchases represent more than half of the overall purchases. Even in organizations that have low affinity for online donations, the holiday gift program performs well online.
  6. Sending out gift cards must be timely and creative. The card itself has an intrinsic perceived value. Successful organizations develop a tradition of gift cards that donors and consumers look for, like the WWF stuffed toys. While the gift cards will not impact your initial year's results, they will impact subsequent campaigns.
  7. If the campaign has been used for acquisition, make sure you have a strong thank-you and second gift strategy.
Common factors

Here's what my colleagues and I learned through working with a number of organizations to develop holiday gift programs.

  • While more and more catalogues and Web applications are available, the holiday gift programs are still immature. The charitable sector is well aware of them, but consumers are just beginning to grasp their potential.
  • Holiday gifts are most familiar in international development organizations, but can be applied to almost any program. Chickens and goats are still the most popular choices.
  • The most challenging obstacle to overcome is identifying specific gifts. Chickens and goats just make sense to the consumer. In some nonprofit environments, specific gifts that resonate with the consumer are more difficult to identify.
  • Donors do not see the purchase of a holiday gift as a donation. While they appreciate the charitable donation receipt, they purchase the gift from their holiday gift budget, not their donation budget.
  • While the Web is more and more dominant in the holiday gift market, holiday gift programs are more effective when supported by print and digital.
  • Holiday gift programs are often well suited to acquisition activities.
The holiday gift program is an extremely successful fundraising strategy when implemented well. Consider your opportunity carefully.  The program is used most effectively as an annual program. Your test period should be three to five years.

Gayle Goossen is the president and partner at Barefoot Creative. Not-for-profits make up more than 50% of Barefoot's client base. The company's focus is on helping each client effectively grow. With a focus on fundraising, brand equity and direct response tactics, they are excited about the growth potential in the Canadian charitable sector.

 Contact Gayle

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