NSPCC’s ‘Letter from Santa’: steering Santa’s sleigh through an ‘unprecedented’ Christmas

Monday, June 7th, 2021
illustration of santa on his sleigh being pulled by Rudolph. There are letters flying out of Santa's hands.

Alex Achkar, Senior Planner

Think back to last Christmas. No one could have imagined a festive season as strange as it was. With pantos, family parties and Santa’s grotto on hold, the year ended in a grandly disappointing and fitting finale to 2020 – lockdown Christmas.

Cue the ‘big man in red’ himself, Santa Claus, to save the day and keep the Christmas magic alive for the nation’s youngest, one letter at a time.

Last Christmas, Open worked with the NSPCC to take a fresh look at their long-established and very successful flagship Christmas offer, ‘Letter from Santa’.  In a socially distanced world, ‘Letter from Santa’ had the opportunity to help families create a safe and magical Christmas experience for children.

This value exchange product has been offering festive wonderment to children for decades. It’s an exceedingly simple idea. Parents (and grandparents, uncles, and aunts too) speak to the elves at the NSPCC who help Santa write an interactive and personalised letter, delivered directly to a child’s front door in exchange for a small, voluntary donation.

Though already successful, a significant opportunity for growth was identified. And we had two clear aims for campaign success – driving volume and driving value.

We focused on three simple but powerful principles to steer Santa’s sleigh through the ‘unprecedented’ Christmas.


First, go back to understand your audiences, frequently.

To keep a product relevant and engaging for both repeat and new supporters, we must step into the audiences’ world, uncovering their needs and motivations in real-time. Understanding your audiences should be like brushing your teeth – a frequent and routinely practised habit that requires concerted effort but is highly recommended.

Communicating is easier when you know who you are talking to well. And communicating effectively is especially important during tough times.

Don’t just think about who they are on the outside (age, location, job) – strive to understand your audiences from the inside out. What makes them feel great about themselves? What keeps them up at night? What do they want others to think about them?

With ‘Letter from Santa’, we honed in on the importance placed on family, on building positive family experiences and the desire to do their bit of good over the festive season. 

From there, we centred core messaging and positioning on driving relevance and spurring action:

  • Solve their problem: hero the product as a solution to an uncertain Christmas
  • Tap into their identity: make them feel fantastic as a parent/grandparent
  • Balance product value with donation impact: anchor the £5 donation impact before they reach the website to drive value

Keeping up the habit of understanding your audience is worth it because it’s always the best place to start planning a new campaign. Digging deeper here is a sure-fire way to create scroll-stopping creative with cut-through that is just right for them.

Second, test, learn and repeat (even if you think there’s nothing else to know).

With long-standing products, we tend to feel that we’ve already seen and done it all, and that there is nothing left to test. But people’s behaviours and drivers are constantly in flux and expectations are evolving at an incredible pace. That means what works for your most loyal supporters and potential new supporters is always on the move too.

When venturing into new creative territory with a product or a fundraising proposition, testing is the way to learn. And we know that learning is the best way to improve and grow.

Test and learn happens at different scales. As the complexity of the test increases, so does the value it can bring. Clarity on why you want to test something is as important as what you test:

  •       Fast & simple testing is tactical, quick and optimises performance in the short-term
  •       Long & complex testing is strategic, with involved set-up and allows for analysis of audience behaviours and performance over the long-term

Testing is about making sure you understand and validate what it is about your offer that audiences love and that you do everything you can to optimise towards that. And make sure to repeat the approach year after year.

Third, play to your product and brand’s strengths.

If your organisation is in a lucky position to already have a long-running heritage product or offer, something about it (and you!) is clearly resonating with people. Don’t be shy about sticking to what’s been proven to work best front and centre. But that doesn’t mean we should put out the exact same campaign year after year (re: Test, learn, repeat principle above).

Playing to your brand recognition helps people make a decision quickly. And that’s a very good thing. It means people lean into existing trust, bringing you a big step closer to them taking action.

The best way to build your product’s brand is to keep investing in your product’s identity, its strongest benefits, and its uniqueness in market. 


People are always changing, and it’s our job to keep up with them. When bringing out the calendar year after year for Christmas fundraising planning, it may seem like it’s always the same challenge ahead of us, but we know that simply can’t be true.

The world has changed. We’ve changed. And you can bet your audiences have changed too.

Whatever Christmas 2021 brings (and let’s face it, that could be a great many different things), we can adapt, shift, and even thrive in the most unlikely of circumstances. When planning in a pandemic feels overwhelming, let’s remember that we already have the tools that can steer us through it.

If you’re anything like me and already thinking about mince pies (and Christmas planning) and would like to talk about how Open can help, we’d love a chat, please drop us an email.

To watch our recent webinar about Christmas fundraising in 2021, download it for free here.

With thanks to our friends at NSPCC for allowing us to share these insights with you.

Back to the future

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018
Institute of Fundraising Awards - winning fundraising campaigns for Terrence Higgins Trust and Unicef

It’s been a funny year in fundraising. By which I mean it’s been difficult and often deeply unfunny. So, even more so than the previous event, the IOF Awards do last night started out feeling a bit like a much-needed support group meeting.

But, once the wine started flowing and Stephen K Amos found a way to make even the pre-records funny, everyone got a bit silly and our partners won some awards. Phew.

First up was some work that we all love and which has been a bit of a beacon at Open over the last couple of years – Terrence Higgins Trust’s Be Proud. Be Sexy. Be Safe. campaign.

Terrence Higgins Trusts' Be Proud. Be Sexy. Be Safe fundraising campaign tote bag
If you didn’t see our very own @fiona_pattison and @aliwalker84 presenting yesterday, this campaign uses laser-sharp targeting and Facebook Lead Ads to engage people with the cause and then seals the deal with a bit of (dare I say it) good old fashioned Direct Marketing. The end result of all this cleverness is a very, very cost-effective fundraising programme that’s brought a ton of new, engaged supporters to THT.

There was then (for team Open) a bit of a frustrating interlude where Scope’s much-lauded Mindful Monsters was pipped for three awards. Ouch.

But then, thankfully, Unicef bagged the award that, as a DM dinosaur, I’d really been hoping for – Best Use of Insight for its GDPR work.

Unicef's GDPR Consent campaign won at the Institute of Fundraising Awards and IoF Insight Awards

This project – which also won the IOF Insight Group Award – combined a bunch of data analysis, modelling and qualitative research to create a campaign that made sure a huge chunk of UNICEF’s supporters weren’t snatched away by GDPR. 

The whole thing was absolutely textbook in its conception and execution – and absolutely critical in its results. And as an agency that’s often known for its creative and/or tech, it’s nice to show that, at our heart, we’re all about the data and the audience.

So there you are. Old techniques, new channels and more ways forward.





What does good look like?

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

We work with a bunch of amazing organisations and, consequently, we hear this question a lot. Because while individual results are important – and fascinating – they mean more when you put them in context.

That’s why, in partnership with Allan Freeman of Freestyle Marketing, we decided to put together a sector benchmarking project that would deliver meaningful ‘apples to apples’ comparisons across a range of quantitative and qualitative KPIs.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And, of course, it really wasn’t. So, before I say anything else, I want to say a huge thank-you to everyone at the twenty participating charities who made it happen.

Many of those people were there this morning when we finally unveiled our findings – and I hope that all the effort was worthwhile. We’ve certainly analysed the flow of a great deal of money and generosity – our study documents £2bn+ of donations, £200m of fundraising spend and the activity of 20 million donors, volunteers and social followers.

We’ve cut that data up in a whole bunch of ways and, with our partners’ permission, we’re hoping to share as many of our findings as possible over the coming weeks and months. But for the moment, I’m going to share just one chart.
Overall volume of Donors, Campaigners, Volunteers, Social Followers and Monthly Web Traffic
This shows – from left to right – the number of volunteers (98k), active donors (7.8m), campaigners (686k), social followers (11.7m) and monthly web visits (18m) on record with our participants in the past year.

Isn’t that exciting? The number people who actively ‘follow’ these twenty amazing causes in channels that barely existed ten years ago significantly exceeds the accumulated count of active supporters they’ve built up over decades. And that’s before you look at 200m+ web visits – any one of which could be the start of a new relationship.

Ironically, digital skills were the biggest area for development and the biggest recruitment challenge identified by our survey.

But now we know that, we can do something. Right? Because we know what good needs to look like.

If you’re keen to know more about what we’ve been up to and find out how your charity can get involved please get in touch.