Fundraising Lessons from my Favourite Christmas Movies

As I’m sure you know by now, there is a fundraising lesson hidden in every film ever produced. As part of my ongoing quest to shine a light on the lessons hiding in plain sight I’ve turned my attention to some of the best Christmas films. (Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas film…).

This list is by no means exhaustive. So, if you happen to spot some crackers I’ve missed this Christmas let me know and I will add them. You can tweet me (@DavidBurgessFR) or email me ( and I’ll add them, along with a credit.

I know that, for many, Christmas this year will feel a little strange. However you are spending the holidays this year I hope it is filled with love and laughter!

The Muppet's Christmas Carol

Fundraising Quote:

Waldorf: There was something about mankind we loved.
Statler: I think it was their money!

Fundraising Lesson:

Despite all the singing and cute-looking creatures this film contains a clear warning for fundraisers – if you care more about your donor’s money than the human being behind it you will be doomed to suffer for all eternity.

A variation of this lesson can also be seen in It’s a Wonderful Life:

People were human beings to [my father]. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!


Fundraising Quote:

“I think you’re beautiful and I feel really warm when I am around you and my tongue swells up.”

Fundraising Lesson:

Buddy the lovable elf shares one trait with a lot of fundraisers – they are both prone to forgetting they are human. While Buddy’s elf upbringing means he is much more likely to share his feelings and emotions, fundraisers often go the other way, communicating in a way that makes them come across like emotionless machines. The result is letters and emails to supporters that sound like Alexa or Siri wrote them. So, don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins – when you are talking to supporters, try and sound more like a human than a robot.

Fundraising Quote 2:

“The best way to spread fundraising cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Fundraising Lesson 2:

There is a second lesson from Elf for those charities who are ashamed or embarrassed to be seen to be asking for donations. If you hide your fundraising message in the deepest, darkest recesses of your letters/newsletters/websites and downplay the importance of donors you are depriving them of the joy and cheer that comes from giving.

Miracle on 34th Street

Fundraising Quote:

“Don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.”

Fundraising Lesson:

Things are not looking good for Kris Kringle. The judge is about to come to a verdict and it looks like he is going to rule against our kind-hearted hero. Until he receives a handmade Christmas card with a $1 bill inside. With this simple act the whole story changes, to the delight of people around the world.

We can learn two lessons from this:

  1. Sometimes the smallest gifts can carry the greatest meaning
  2. Never underestimate the power of a handwritten card!

Die Hard

Fundraising Quote:

“Hans Gruber: We do NOT alter the plan!

Karl: And if HE alters it?”

Fundraising Lesson:

A reminder for fundraisers that our donors have a say too. Just because you’ve mapped out a desired Moves Management plan or Supporter Journey doesn’t mean they are going to follow it. We have to be prepared to alter our plans to provide our supporters with the propositions and relationships that meet their needs.

The Santa Clause

Fundraising Quote:

“In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waives any and all right to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus, in perpetuity to which ​time the wearer becomes unable to do so by either accident or design.”

Fundraising Lesson:

“In filling in the form and making a donation, the supporter waives any and all right to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Dorothy Donor, in perpetuity to which ​time the supporter becomes unable to do so by either accident or design.”

Just because someone has done something once doesn’t mean they are necessarily looking for a long-term commitment.

Nightmare Before Christmas

Fundraising Quote:

“Somewhere deep inside of these bones, a weariness started to grow”

Fundraising Lesson:

Jack Skellington was one of the best scarers of all time. Year after year he achieved remarkable success. And then he got bored. He became desperate to find new things. He turned his back on scaring in favour of a new profession…with limited success.

So, what can we learn?

  • Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean it’s the best way. There could be other ways of doing things that could bring just as much success – if not more! BUT…
  • …being bored is not enough reason to turn your back on a successful strategy/proposition/approach
  • Just because things didn’t succeed the first time doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop

A Boston Matrix analysis can help you decide whether you need to explore new opportunities and when to kill off ideas that have reached the end of their useful life. (You can find out more about Boston Matrix in these great blogs by Richard Sved at 3rd Sector Mission Control and Bernard Ross at The Management Centre).

White Christmas

Fundraising Quote:

“Phil: How much is “wow”?

Bob: It’s right in between “ouch” and “boing”.”

Fundraising Lesson:

When was the last time you made a conscious effort to “Wow” your donors? With so many charities sending forgettable Thank Yous and updates (if they send them at all!) there are real opportunities for fundraisers to make the experience of supporting their organisation memorable for all the right reasons.

Investing time and effort in wowing your donors should be seen as investment in moving them away from the pain of a disappointing experience and towards wanting to bounce right back in and support again.

Nightmare Before Christmas

Fundraising Quote:

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Fundraising Lesson:

A fundraiser’s job in a nutshell – to help supporters to see the lives they’ve touched, the lives they could touch and all the things that would be missing if they weren’t around.

Merry Christmas from Apollo Fundraising!