Guest blog by Sahil Shah, Partnerships Executive at the Big Give

What makes a successful Christmas Challenge campaign?

One question we are often asked at the Big Give is ‘what makes a successful Christmas Challenge campaign?’ And this is a good time to ask, as applications for the Christmas Challenge open in May, over seven months before Christmas!

(If your question is more “What is the Christmas Challenge?” then you can find out more about it here.)

So here are the key ingredients for a successful campaign in the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

A successful campaign begins with your application

Give a strong outline of the problem you are trying to solve and why your approach will be successful. Potential Champion funders, who provide match funding, will want to see how you are trying to solve a real problem, what the impact will be, and what you will use funds for. They will also want to see your experience and expertise in online fundraising, so that they can be confident that the campaign itself will be successful.

Our application form helps you to be as precise as possible in describing your project  – and remember that the wording you use will be what donors see on the campaign page too, so think about how you want to appeal to them.

We have a guide for charities on how to set out the fundraising target for the Christmas Challenge, and we encourage all charities to read it – it is especially useful for first time applicants and explains the importance of setting a realistic target.

Collecting pledges takes time, so start as soon as you can

We encourage charities to submit their applications as soon as possible (this year’s deadline is 5pm Friday 3rd July), as this gives you more time to collect your pledges by the deadline (5pm Friday 28th August).

Pledges are commitments, often from your major donors, to provide match funding for the campaign. When Champions offer match funds alongside these pledges, they will usually offer no more than the total amount of pledges you have been promised.

Pledges are made during the summer, but are not actually paid until after the Christmas Challenge is finished. In contrast to donations during the Challenge itself, which can only be made online by card payment, pledges can be fulfilled by any means, direct to the charity, and so this is a great option for companies or other donors who cannot or prefer not to give online.

Charities that have best results in securing pledges often are methodical about how they target prospective pledgers. Segmenting the donor base is an valuable step in identifying prospective pledgers and the amounts they may be able to give; you could consider ideas like these:

  • Separating your donor base into different groups – eg. individual donors, corporate/business donors, trusts and foundations.
  • For corporate/business donors, trusts and foundations:
    • Evaluate whether they are likely to give again to you this year
    • Make a tailored approach to them – write a personal email to them (ideally from the most senior person possible at your charity), try to arrange a meeting or phone call to them to explain your campaign and what you want to raise funds for
    • Ask them if they would consider making a pledge to the campaign in place of an immediate donation
  • For individual donors:
    • Segment this group further – eg. according to individual donor levels, types of donor (offline vs online) (Bendrigg Trust – last year’s Christmas Challenge Overall Award winners did just that), how long have they been a donor to your organisation
    • Approach high value donors and donors that usually give offline first (remember pledges can be paid in any way that is convenient for the pledger)
    • Make a tailored approach to them – write a personal email to them, try to arrange a meeting or phone call to them to explain your campaign and what you want to raise funds for
    • Ask them if they would consider gifting any potential donation to you as a pledge instead

Champion funds

Once you have secured pledges, Champions will decide which charities’ campaigns to support, and how much match funding to make available to each one. Charities often believe that this is up to the Big Give team, but in fact each Champion has full control of their portfolio. They make their decisions on the basis of their own particular focus and interests, and the strength of each individual application.

So to have the best chance of receiving support from a Champion, make sure that your application clearly shows how you will be successful, both in the fundraising campaign and in delivering the project itself. Make sure your belief in the project’s impact comes through in your application, with a solid basis on facts and research, so that it forms a compelling picture of how this funding would make a difference to people’s lives.

Then gear up towards the campaign week itself

Between receiving your Champion funds and the start of the campaign, charities should be planning their campaign marketing strategy. The week of the Christmas Challenge campaign itself is extremely busy, so being prepared will allow you to be more responsive to progress during the week and to engage with donors.

The marketing phase is a great opportunity to both galvanize your internal team and excite your external supporters. Make your donors aware that you are taking part in the Christmas Challenge. The winner of last year’s best planning and supporter engagement award, AzuKo, reached out to their wider network for help with resources and volunteer time – make your network part of your campaign. Don’t be afraid to try new things either: Tommy’s approached eBay and Etsy sellers and asked them to donate a small portion of their profits to their campaign, a fantastic idea that helped them exceed their campaign target.

The Big Give hosts a variety of webinars by marketing experts and provides various resources and case studies to help charities, as well as being available for 1-on-1 support calls.

So what are you waiting for?!

Applications for the 2020 Christmas Challenge are now open – simply visit and click ‘Charity Login’; if you aren’t already registered you’ll have the chance to do so and then you can begin your application.

If you are still unsure of applying because you have never participated in the Christmas Challenge before or think your charity is not big enough to participate, read how Hamlin Fistula UK won the best newcomer award for last year with their first ever digital fundraising campaign. See what other charities have said about their experiences of participating in the Christmas Challenge and find out here how you can apply to take part this year.