Nearly six in 10 Australians say cost of living is their top concern. No surprise, with inflation sitting above 6%. But what does this mean for charities and their Christmas appeals? Will Aussies still give at this key fundraising seasonal campaign? What steps should you take now for a strong giving season?

The good news…

Aussies still give when it’s needed. This was true after the financial crisis of 2008. NFP revenue fell by 20%, then bounced back within a year. It was true during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. And it’s true today.

Donating to charity is as much a part of Christmas as a barbie on the beach. In fact, most Australians are in a better position to weather this storm than past crises. Unemployment is low. The average family has close to $40,000 in savings tucked away – more than at any point in the last 30 years.

This should give charities cause for hope. But it’s anyone’s guess how the rising cost of food, fuel and housing will impact this year’s giving.

So we decided to find out.

Christmas giving, demystified

We surveyed 300 Australians to understand how inflation might affect their giving plans. While many Australians are feeling the crunch, most aren’t intending to cut their charitable giving: two out of every three respondents say they still plan to give this Christmas.

In fact, a higher number of people said they intend to give more this year (22%) than those who said they intend to give less (13%). The margin is even bigger when you look at younger donors: nearly half of all 20 to 46 year-olds plan to increase their giving this Christmas.

A plurality of donors will give up to $100 this holiday season, with favourite causes including children’s charities, homelessness, medical research, and animal welfare.

Bottom line: Christmas remains a key time for Australians to give to charity and while finances are tighter, there is still a strong intent to give. When we asked people why they intend to give this year, an even clearer picture emerged. By and large, those with means – those with well paying jobs or those whose earnings increased – see it as their responsibility to give something back. As one respondent put it, “I have earned more money this year so I am in a better position to give.”

That doesn’t mean you should rely on the strategies of Christmas past, though.

5 do’s and don’ts for your Christmas campaign

1. Don’t pull back.

This is not the time to ‘play it safe’, not when our research indicates many Aussies plan to give more this Christmas than last year. You still need to be on the field of play, so, go out with confidence. Make your most persuasive case for giving, and trust your donors to step up.

2. Be sensitive to your donors.

While you shouldn’t dilute your appeal, be sure to acknowledge the hardship many Aussies are facing right now. Give your fundraising content a lighter touch so you don’t alienate those who want to help, but can’t afford to give as much as last year.

You could also reach out simply to thank donors and ask how they’re coping with the cost of living crisis. Even if they can’t give now, the care you show now will be remembered later.

3. Share what you’re doing to help those feeling the pinch.

Connect the cost of living crisis to the work you’re already doing. If inflation is creating increased demand for your services (eg food banks and homeless shelters), or making it harder for people to get the help they need (eg mental health care), then that’s the story you should tell this Christmas.

International NGOs may need to work a bit harder to make this connection, as many Australians are looking closer to home right now. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Create relatability and relevance around global issues that impact everyone, such as climate change or the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Remember: authenticity is key. Resist the urge to chase trending topics for the sake of relevancy alone. The connection you make needs to be real for it to resonate.

4. Review your channel mix to match shifting donor preferences.

Our research also dug into what channels are most effective for connecting with donors. No surprise: online is by far the most important channel (doubly so for younger donors). But there were a few surprises…

A lot of donors list face to face and giving coins or cash among their favourite ways to donate. After two years of COVID, people are primed for personal interaction. In-person fundraising and events need to be considered for your Christmas campaign.

What doesn’t resonate with donors right now? Unsolicited phone calls and text messages.

Just 4% of respondents rated phone solicitations very favourably. It’s not hard to see why: during the pandemic, a lot of fundraising budget and energy shifted to telemarketing. Donor fatigue is likely affecting this channel, and charities should proceed with caution.

In addition to getting your channel mix right, it’s crucial to segment your fundraising. Don’t lump your $100 donors and major donors into the same appeal. Tailor your message and proposition to each donor’s giving capacity and donation history.

5. Don’t forget younger donors.

Younger donors want to give – and, as our research indicates, they want to give more than they did last year. Christmas is the best time to get them into your CRM database and start building a relationship.

Younger donors don’t respond to the same fundraising tactics, however. Specifically, they tend to have:

  • Lower tolerance for digital friction
  • Higher expectations for user experience and transparency

Your online checkout experience needs to be short and seamless: mobile-friendly, one-click donating isn’t the future. It’s now. Mobile payment services like Apple Pay and Google Pay are no longer ‘nice to haves’. They’re fast becoming a must if you want younger donors to convert.

This audience also expects more transparency and a personalised donor experience. Take this post from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Rather than issuing a traditional “times are tough, please give” appeal, they shared a recent invoice showing exactly how the rising cost of food is affecting their work.

Bringing younger donors behind the curtain builds trust and loyalty. Another effective way to do this is to make their donation as tangible as possible. For example, World Vision Australia uses their gift catalogue to show donors exactly where their gift could go – a $15 blanket or $1,450 to provide clean water for a whole community, for example.

Garth Stirling is the Head of Services at ntegrity.