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Highly Appealing: 3 reasons to love your newspaper's Christmas charity appeal

By Craig Borlase | 5 December 2014

Yesterday my paper ran a piece about dogs that can sniff out cancer. They ran the same story yesterday and, most likely, it'll be back there again tomorrow. Why? Because it’s that time of year again; the moment when certain newspapers repeatedly exhort their readers to part with their cash to help improve the lives of strangers. This year's Christmas charity appeals see the Guardian going after mental health, the Independent lending its support to the issue of child soldiers while the Telegraph is supporting the fight against Ebola, cancer and the drive to offer support for the isolated elderly.


Perhaps there’s something about these appeals that harks back to the vintage days of the press, a time when men with inky fingers and slicked back hair took on the powerful and the corrupt and held them to account. When editors urged generosity, readers trusted them and willingly obeyed.


Only, that’s not quite how it was. The Telegraph’s Christmas appeal is only in its 25th year and it's safe to assume that editors back then faced the same pressures from proprietors that they do from shareholders today, for, whatever else we believe about them, newspapers exist in a competitive commercial environment. They stand or fall by one thing: sales.


Which makes the presence of the Christmas charity appeal all the more intriguing; why, when it’s clear that sex and celebrity gossip are the essential ingredients for modern media outlets, do many of them continue to ask us to act generously?


1. They’re Following Our Lead

Contrary to cynical opinion, generosity is on the up.  Whatever the motivation behind each of our acts of generosity - whether we are committed to a specific cause, directed by our faith or driven by some personal experience - people want to give.


According to the Institute of Fundraising - which analysed online giving among a sample of not-for-profit organisations between 2010 and 2013 - the average online donation in December 2013 was £64.10, up 14% from £56.27 in December 2010. This shows that people are becoming more generous when donating to their favourite causes at Christmas.


2. They’re Doing Some Good

The Telegraph's quarter century of seasonal charity appeals has raised close to £23million. Last year’s Guardian and Observer appeal raised £340,000 to ‘provide imaginative solutions to reducing poverty by spurring local, sustainable economic growth in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya.’


Though small by major NGO standards, the size of the projects supported often means that the money raised makes a tangible difference to their work. So, for just a month’s worth of recurrent editorial focus, proprietors and staff get to make an impact on real lives. It's an enticing prospect.


3. They’re Building A Brand

A broadsheet that merely reports the news while avoiding doing anything public to challenge injustice appears a little odd and out of touch. From smoothies to summer festivals, tech companies to energy providers, we value an ethical approach - to a degree, at least. Editors - the good ones, at least - know how to appeal to our better nature, to draw our attention to parts of life we may have overlooked and, just occasionally, direct our response.


But there’s more to it than that. Yes, the Christmas charity appeal allows a paper to further define its identity and values, but it goes deeper than simple associations with touch-paper issues. There’s something odd - yet nicely playful - about a paper that spends eleven months of the year critiquing, probing and exposing allowing itself a month to go all wide-eyed and optimistic. In a way in doesn’t quite make sense, and yet it an age where the lines between journalist, subject and reader are becoming increasingly blurred, why shouldn't our papers continue to urge us to give, not just observe?


All of the above - following the crowd, making an impact, resisting straight-jacket definitions - could be said of many of us as well. Generosity has the power to see us cross dividing lines, to blur boundaries. It is a complicated, nuanced and at times contradictory affair, and we are all the better for it.


Image by Steve Bowbrick

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#givingtuesday: 10 Quick and Easy Ideas for individuals

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