Newspaper charity appeals rise above the downturn
Engaging stories that explored, explained and scrutinised the work of charities have been key to eliciting a profitable response to national newspapers’ annual Christmas charity appeals this year.
The Times has already beaten last year's total; raising around £600,000 in donations, as opposed to £450,000 last year, which will be almost doubled through matched funding from corporate sponsors. The Daily Telegraph announced on 14th January that they had equalled last year’s total of £620,000 with two weeks of the appeal still to run.
These successes rely upon the quality of communication between the newspaper and its readers, according to the papers' editors.
“The appeal is always story led …. The better the story, the more money that comes in,” explained Joyce Smith, features desk manager at The Daily Telegraph.
The Times appeal had the same priority, but decided that readers’ financial worries would have an impact on the nature of stories that could sustain interest. “Because of looming recession, we had to be more careful, had to be confident that the charities could generate stories that would sell well,” Rosemary Bennett, social affairs correspondent at The Times, told Philanthropy UK.
Although its appeal is still running, The Financial Times anticipates that it will raise less than last year’s total of around £1.6m. However, by focusing on what readers want to know about this year’s charity, WaterAid, they aim to generate something more significant than just the amount donated through the appeal.
“Charities say that exposure in the paper is hard to calculate in financial terms, but it is very important in attracting new donors, and validating the continued support of old donors,” says Martin Dickson, deputy editor of The Financial Times, who runs the Christmas appeal.
“People want to know how money is being used. By explaining how it is used, you naturally show the need of the charity,” agreed Barney Jopson, east Africa correspondent for The Financial Times, who wrote stories for the appeal.
The Guardian and The Observer have a three-year commitment to fund an African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) project in Katine, Uganda.
Donations this year were slower than last year, but better than was feared by some who were involved. The appeal raised £173, 479 in donations and a further £23,808 in direct debit pledges. In total the project has raised over £850,000 in donations in just over a year, which will be matched by corporate funding.
The trend of deepening the understanding of charities’ work has also influenced the approach taken at The Guardian. Elizabeth Ford, editor of the newspaper’s Katine website explained to Philanthropy UK: “The Guardian's commitment is to raising money for AMREF, but also to raising the issue of development, explaining it to a wider audience than normal, and offering transparency to readers.”
Engaging stories have proven crucial in inspiring readers. But perhaps more importantly, they can also generate volunteers, government interest, corporate and non-profit partnering opportunities, as well as help to foster a culture of giving.