Reverse advent calendars - donations with seasonal appeal

  • For charities that rely on donations from supporters, running seasonal appeals can be a great way to focus efforts
  • Reverse advent calendars encourage supporters to donate an item a day over a set number of days
  • We talk to two charities that have run reverse advent calendars with great success, and look at how you can run your own campaign

For charities that rely on food and supply donations for the people or animals they support, running seasonal appeals can be a positive way to focus efforts.

We look at two charities who this year will be running reverse advent calendar campaigns, which encourage supporters to donate an item a day for a set amount of time, slowly building up a hamper to pass on to those in need.

Changing Lives

Changing Lives is a Gateshead-based charity providing specialist support services for 21,000 vulnerable people and their families across the UK every year. After noting the popularity of reverse advent calendars in 2016, this year they have decided to create their own.

Following several months of planning, which included the logistics of collection and distribution, the charity launched its campaign on 3 November. This involved social media and website promotion to let people know how they could take part, and included an appearance on BBC Breakfast and coverage by the Huffington Post.

The charity is asking supporters to “pop something lovely” into a box every day during advent. Items such as unwrapped gifts, toys, toiletries, warm clothing and home decorations will be distributed to the residents of their accommodation projects, who often receive very little.

Jill Watkin, Fundraising Manager at Changing Lives said: “The reverse advent calendars are small acts of kindness that will add up to a massive difference for vulnerable people.

“These donations will provide practical support to people who are homeless or at risk of it, those who are battling life-threatening addictions, escaping domestic abuse or sexual exploitation, and people overcoming barriers to employment.

“We hope the appeal will give supporters a sense of purpose through the festive period and know that they are helping bring cheer to people in genuine need.”

Around 200 people have already signed up, and the charity hopes that many more will get involved.

Find out more about the Changing Lives’ reverse advent calendar.

New Mills Helping Hands Food bank

The New Mills food bank, set up in Derbyshire in 2013, is an independent food bank run by volunteers from the wider community and surrounding churches.

The New Mills Manager explains how its reverse advent calendar started: “Local people are massively supportive of the food bank. However, this meant that Christmas tended to get quite hectic with volunteers trying to juggle their own family commitments while making sure gifts got to their intended recipients on time. We heard about reverse advents and thought it might give us the chance to make sure that people receive hampers before Christmas.

“In 2016 we launched a reverse advent calendar. It ran for 24 days, based on a day-by-day list and culminating with a hamper-gifting day in early December. The response was huge! We were inundated!

“This year we are doing a 12-day calendar. We think the smaller hampers will make it easier for more people to get involved and it will be better matched to our client numbers.

“Once we launch on 27 November, we will be posting an ‘item of the day’ from our list on Twitter and Facebook. We will include pictures of items and will encourage people to share their own pictures using the hashtag #12daysNewMills. We’ll be sprinkling a dusting of seasonal cheer to build momentum throughout the campaign.

“We have set a hamper gifting day on 10 December and hired a youth centre where people can deliver their boxes. The sight of the accumulated hampers is amazing.

“My advice to any organisation starting a reverse advent calendar is to keep it relevant, keep it manageable, keep it playful and keep it local.”

How to run a reverse advent calendar

Plan your campaign

  • When will you launch and how many days will you run for? Last year Lichfield Foodbank asked for donations to fill their post-Christmas slump
  • What items do you want? Will you share a full list at the start or release one each day?
  • When and where will you take delivery of donations? How will you store, sort and distribute items?

Launch your campaign

  • Let supporters know about the campaign online, via email and on social media
  • Produce a poster or image to explain how it works. This downloadable poster from Luton Foodbank (PDF) includes facts about the foodbank and pictures of items
  • Encourage and inspire supporters by telling them about the difference donations will make
  • Make it fun and shareable with images, gifs, videos and hashtags. North Clwyd Animal Rescue included dog images in their reverse advent calendar

Run your campaign

  • Plan your comms at the start and keep momentum going by thinking about how you’ll deal with the lull once initial excitement has passed
  • Give encouragement and thanks
  • Tell stories of the people who will benefit
  • Remind people that they can still join in after the campaign has started

End your campaign

  • Celebrate successes and show impact. How many people joined in? What will the donations do? One Can Trust wrote a lovely thank you article on 28 December about the 200 donations they received in 2016
  • Take photos and videos to thank supporters and use for promotion next year