Christmas 2023: another year of crisis?

Christmas 2023: another year of crisis?

In January 2024 we surveyed 104 charities to find out how the ongoing crises are affecting their winter appeals. Here’s what we found out.

In January 2023 we surveyed 58 charities to find out how the cost of living crisis affected their 2022 Christmas appeal performance. 

At Open we’re dedicated to sharing as much insight as we can to help you make the right fundraising decisions. That’s why we repeated the research in January 2024 to find out what’s happening for charity teams across the UK, and share key considerations for planning your next winter appeal. 

Let’s set the scene

2023 was another year of permacrisis; the cost of living was still affecting thousands across the country but other crises dominated headlines including the climate emergency, strikes, and the escalation of violence in Gaza.

We wanted to find out what impact these crises had on winter campaigns in 2023 and were thrilled to see many more charities sharing their results in the winter appeal survey to help the sector gain a better understanding of fundraising performance. Thank you to everyone that took part.

The results: warm activity

Warm mail

Warm mail saw stronger performance this winter, with 46% of participants reaching or exceeding their fundraising targets, an increase from 35% in 2022.

This increase in success could be attributed to more realistic targets, as we found 40% of charities reduced their income targets ahead of activity starting, but it does give us cautious optimism things are getting better.  

But, it is worth highlighting that 1 in 4 charities saw their income significantly below target – so there are still many struggling in this turbulent fundraising market.

In a similar trend to last year, many charities are continuing to see strong average gift performance, with 75% meeting or exceeding their average gift targets. At the same time, response rates are continuing to struggle against targets, showing those who can still afford to give are donating, and the importance of nurturing these valuable supporters. 

This year we asked participating charities about the number of mailings they send with 54% sending two mailings and 31% sending one.

Charities that send one mailing are more likely to meet or exceed their fundraising target.

Warm email

Warm emails have fared better than mail with 62% hitting or exceeding target, again driven by strong average gifts and stronger response rates than on warm mail.

There was also far less underperformance on warm emails against target versus warm mailings, so it’s great to see this channel working well to help charities fundraise. It’s important to highlight that a number of INGOs responding to the crisis in Gaza took part in this study, so their successful emergency fundraising on email may well be skewing our channel findings. 

The results: cold activity

In short, winter appeals recruiting new supporters underperformed for the second year running. 59% of surveyed charities did not hit their cold fundraising targets, with 31% significantly under target. 

The trend of struggling recruitment is unfortunately continuing; if you feel like you need help with your programme to help stabilise performance, get in touch.

Do charities that integrate reach their targets?

We asked charities what proactive steps they took ahead of winter activity starting, and found almost 1 in 3 cold teams integrated their activity with other teams in their organisations, whereas that rose to almost 1 in 2 with warm activity. 

Although there didn’t seem to be a significant change in warm activity performance for teams who integrated versus those who didn’t, cold campaigns were more likely to exceed targets when teams had an integrated approach. 1 in 4 charities who integrated met or exceeded their cold targets compared to just 13% of charities who didn’t integrate their activity with others in their organisation. 

If you’d like a step-by-step guide to helping your charity integrate, download our free eBook here.

What you made of it all…

The final question we asked survey participants was, ‘What were the factors you think influenced your winter performance’ and some key trends stood out.

Many charities are struggling with a lack of internal resource, especially in key delivery roles, which meant that activity was delayed, rushed, or scaled back. 

Several charities are also struggling with producing fresh content and integrated messaging because their time and resources are stretched.

And the sector is still battling with external challenges presented by the cost of living crisis, struggling to stand out at a busy time of the year against their competitors, and the UK public’s attention and donations shifting to supporting crises overseas.

Despite all these factors, when charities harnessed their relevance and spoke to what their audiences cared about this winter, results were stronger.

In conclusion…

It’s been another mixed year of fundraising. Winter activity landed in a now-known recession and unfortunately, cold acquisition has fared the worst for a second year in a row with many charities struggling to recruit. We’ve seen positives with slightly better performance on warm mail, and success with warm email. 

It’s been promising for us to see many charities managing to integrate and test new inclusions or incentives, with some promising pockets of success, particularly with the positive impact of integrating on cold performance. 

You can view a full version of the results deck here.

What should you focus on in 2024?

It continues to be a challenging market out there, so leaning into your cause to differentiate yourself from others and speaking to why cold and warm audiences should care is going to be crucial for charities in 2024.

It’s also important to gain insight as much as possible to benchmark where your performance fares against others in the sector. It’ll help you pinpoint where there are challenges or opportunities to address to help to stabilise and grow your fundraising programme.

Our new product, Plan to Grow, will help you identify opportunities for growth across your whole fundraising programme whilst managing risk. If you’d like more information, contact Mark Foster today.

And as we saw from these results, integrating activity with other teams in your organisation has helped charities perform better, especially with cold audiences. To make sure you’re maximising every touchpoint and approaching integration the right way, download our free step-by-step guide online.

Research notes

  • 104 charities took part in the study, with a combined annual income in 2022/23 of £4.9 billion.
  • Not all charities answered every question in the survey (either didn’t do the activity or didn’t have the data)
  • Exact figures weren’t required
Holly Neve Senior Planner
10 March 2024
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