Wanna Buy a Goat?

The Power of Holiday Giving

Well, it started with a goat. 

Actually, it didn’t. It started with a heifer. Heifer International began a Christmas tradition that offered families living in poverty a cow. The milk produced is a necessary source of protein and calcium for children. Excess milk can be sold, giving the family a modest income. 

Today you can provide chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, water buffalo, sheep, bees and, yes, goats. 

Today, charities across the world have caught on to the power of Holiday Giving in the form of a lovely gift catalogue. 

So, you may ask, are we too late in the game? 

The answer is, unequivocally, NO. 

The Holiday Gift Catalogue continues to engage donors: from small local organizations to multi-million-dollar charities. 

In 2020, a client challenged Barefoot Creative to help them grow their Christmas Catalogue. 2019 had been a bust, with the catalogue barely paying for itself. I was curious to the reason for its lagging results. In my experience, even for mid-sized and small charities, the catalogue always was a hit. 

Could Barefoot Creative develop a stronger strategy, more compelling creative, and double the impact of the Holiday Gift Program?

So, here’s what we did (We = generic term including client and agency. We are a team and we are much more successful when we work as a team):

  1. We started with the data. We looked at the results of the past 5 years of holiday giving. That helped us understand the donors better and what they were interested in. Of course, our central purpose is to communicate the work of the charity – BUT as marketers of integrity and focused on results, we need to use data to inform us. 
  2. We worked with the program and marketing team to understand the specific work of the organization. We sorted out 40 “products” that would make it to the gift catalogue. (The number of products is not critical. There needs to be enough – more than 6 – that give the donor choice and not too many that the donor can’t decide).  
  3. We made sure there was a wide range of price points, from stocking stuffers (quick add-ons) to larger impact gifts. 
  4. We chose compelling photos. This is a gift catalogue. Photos are the star. 
  5. We wrote product descriptions that were specific, showed impact and engaged donors. We took out all the organizational speak and any reference to “Our program…” We refused to use the gift catalogue as a teaching tool. There are other communication tools to use for that. 
  6. We provided an overall design that was true to the organizational brand AND Christmas. Infusing the catalogue with the spirit of the holidays is a psychological stimulus for giving. 
  7. We built a distribution strategy that included active and loyal single-gift and monthly donors, lapsed donors AND seemingly dormant donors. We ran the list through Canada Post’s address check list to make sure we were sending to active addresses. We looked at the data and isolated regions of greatest impact and added a small test acquisition group. We produced a unique back page for that region. 
  8. We made sure the digital store was up-to-date and ready to go. 
  9. We created a timeline, including emails, social media and a chaser package. 
  10. We implemented the strategy and watched the gifts come in. 

We had some glitches. 

The biggest one was in the mailing strategy. Unforeseen circumstances at the print company delayed the timing of the catalogue. So, it dropped a little later than we hoped – which could kybosh the plan. And maybe we would have had higher responses if we had maintained the original schedule. We will test it this year. That’s the delight of marketing campaigns.

The results? 

The 2020 campaign was the highest holiday campaign on record and superseded the 2019 campaign by more than 4 times the revenue. The ROI, at 3.7 including the acquisition component, thrilled us. We had acquired a number of new donors at a profit! 

The performance of the Christmas Catalogue didn’t surprise. Our design and copy-writing team are talented, market-savvy and darned good. We understand gift catalogues. 


Well, it’s a tough haul. We know from experience that the strongest acquisition goes hand-in-hand with great brand: Plan, World Vision, Compassion, Samaritan’s Purse (Operation Christmas Child) are leaders. This organization, while 25+ years old, had just gone through a radical organizational re-naming and brand. It is not a household name in Canada. 

Using donor advocates, we dropped it into households in small communities. While the organizational brand was less familiar, the donor advocate was an influencer in the community. 

The strategy was rewarding. The percent response rate was more than industry average and we know we acquired some great new donors: families who are on board with the overall mission and vision of the organization. 

I know it’s hard to believe that the Christmas Catalogue is a successful strategy… especially when we get 5 in our mailbox on one day. It is a competitive market. But with an insightful marketing plan, compelling products and fantastic creative—it’s a star. 

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