Why Crisis asked you for £26.08 this Christmas | David Brindle

From Moses asking for materials to build a tabernacle, to £10.40 to feed a rabbit, it seems specific amounts work best when raising funds for charity

Did you give to charity this Christmas? Giving usually rises sightly during the festive season, though not by as much as you might expect from the number of appeals, and charities have to work hard to make their cause stand out.

One tried-and-tested formula is the “shopping-list” approach, asking for specific sums to buy identified goods or services. Examples this Christmas ranged from Combat Stress’s pitch for £21 to pay for an hour of its helpline for veterans suffering mental health problems, to the RSPCA’s winter appeal request for £8 to feed a cat over three days of the holidays, £10.40 for a rabbit, or £12 for a dog.

Homelessness charity Crisis went to the extreme, asking for precisely £26.08 to fund a place at one of its Crisis at Christmas centres. Not a round £25, or even £26, but £26 and 8p. Why?

Edward Tait, Crisis’s director of fundraising, explains that £26.08 is the exact cost of providing three hot meals a day for nine days at a centre, plus services including healthcare, hairdressing and housing, benefits and employment advice.

Leaving in the odd 8p, he says, helps people to connect with how tangible the amount is.

Fundraisers have long recognised the psychological power of linking the “ask” directly to the outcome. One of the most celebrated campaigns was that of the former Help the Aged charity in the late 1970s, for quick-procedure eye treatments in India running under the headline: “Make a blind man see – £10.”

Ken Burnett, one of the UK’s most experienced fundraising consultants, says the approach can be traced back to the Bible and the account in Exodus of how the prophet Moses – “an accomplished fundraiser” – issued an itemised appeal for the materials and volunteers to build a tabernacle. His campaign proved so successful that he had to plead with donors to stop.

“But charities are increasingly identifying the need to give feedback to donors, to tell them exactly how they have made a difference,” says Burnett. “This can be indicative, explaining the kind of thing we do with your money, or it can be absolutely specific, as in the case of this Crisis campaign.

“From the donor’s point of view, a round figure could look like something plucked out of the air. The odd 8p lends a credibility to it.”

A spokesperson for the Institute of Fundraising says charities considering being as precise as Crisis need to be 100% sure of their calculations and able to evidence them. They must also be able to demonstrate that such earmarked donations do end up funding what has been specified.

“You can’t fundraise for something in particular and then say you decided to spend it on something else after all,” says the spokesperson. “That would risk undoing all the good you are doing in building the donor relationship by making the ask quite so tangible.”

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David Brindle

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