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This appeal raised $835,911. Here’s what you can learn from it.

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How do you raise money for the lesser-known, but escalating crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, from a donor base who just donated millions to the emergency response in Ukraine?

The challenge

When our client, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada, wanted to launch an appeal to help refugees of the escalating Tigray crisis in Ethiopia, they were faced with a conundrum.

They had only just finished a massive appeal for the victims of the war in Ukraine that raised millions of dollars.

In fact, MCC was founded over 100 years ago to specifically help refugees escape famine in Ukraine. Many of the organization’s donors and their family histories have roots in the Ukraine.

Would donors be willing to give again so soon?

And would a lesser-known crisis be a compelling story for donors whose gifts to Ukraine were so personally meaningful?

We knew we had to break the pattern of a traditional appeal.

First off, we needed to close the loop on the previous fundraising campaign.

To make the transition from the Ukraine campaign to the Ethiopia appeal, a gratitude and update email on the emergency response in Ukraine went out to all donors a few weeks before the Ethiopia appeal.

Then, we sent a primer email to all donors a few days before receiving the Ethiopia appeal in the mail, acknowledging the ongoing Ukraine war and pivoting to the crisis in Tigray.

MCC Canada knew from prior surveys and testing that donors strongly identified with helping out in crises that aren’t making headlines anymore.

While a lot of conventional wisdom is to keep fundraising emails short and to the point, the main “ask” email was a plain-text email from each provincial executive director close to 700 words long.

Over the coming weeks, donors received two more follow-up emails from MCC about the ongoing situation in Tigray.

That’s a lot of scrolling! The email with the main ask was over 700 words long—which goes against conventional wisdom, but we knew we had to break the pattern and try something different. And we also knew the copy was so conversational and compelling, many of MCC’s core donors would appreciate hearing about the situation in Tigray.

For the direct mail appeal, we needed to make it impossible for a donor NOT to read it.

So, how do you stand out?

How does the appeal survive the trip from the mailbox to the recycling bin?

How do you earn the attention of a donor, before you even have a chance to earn her gift?

Outer Envelope

  • We used an oversized, 9×12, craft envelope, made to look like an airmail envelope.
  • No teaser. We wanted the outer envelope to have as much intrigue as possible to ensure it gets opened.
  • Testing shows bigger (and odd) sizes work better. While this treatment is more expensive and often reserved for high-value donors, MCC was courageous enough to apply it to the entire mailing list of 27,500 donors.

The Letter

  • While MCC’s response in Tigray includes everything from food to shelter to long-term development, the offer of the appeal focused specifically on helping families who fled the conflict zone build palm mat shelters in the desert.
  • Testing shows longer letters perform better (if the copy is compelling enough). We ended up writing a 4-page letter from each regional Executive Director.
  • MCC knew from internal surveys that donors really resonated with a message of responding to emergencies that were ignored by the news and that weren’t making headlines.

The Lift Note

  • The purpose of the lift note is to “lift” response.
  • We went with a double-sized 8.5 x 11 lift note that took two approaches.
  • On one side, we helped donors visualize the offer by creating an IKEA-like instruction manual to build palm mat shelters, just like the people who are taking refuge in the desert.
  • It made a serious offer a bit more fun, showed how creative and hard-working the families in Tigray are, and showed the impact of a donor’s gift.
  • On the other side, we included a situation report from MCC staff members in Ethiopia.

The Reply Device

  • Since a majority of donors in Canada and North America tend to skew toward being 50 years of age and up—many with some sort of visual impairment—we always use full-page reply devices whenever possible.
  • We also included a short donor satisfaction survey—the first attempt of the organization to start measuring their donors’ experience.
  • The same survey was also triggered on the post-donation page for donors who made an online gift.

The Campaign Landing Page

  • Both the direct mail appeal and the email campaign pointed donors toward a dedicated campaign landing page—including one for higher value donors.
  • Following the donation, donors were invited to take the same satisfaction survey as had been included in the mail.
  • MCC used the results of the survey in aggregate to evaluate the tone and approach of the campaign, coupled with the actual fundraising results.

The Results

The campaign ended up being MCC’s most successful Easter campaign to date. 

The direct mail and email campaign raised a combined total of $732,925. MCC’s fundraising team also used parts of the campaign to reach out to middle and major donors, resulting in an additional $102,986 for a total campaign total of $835,911.

  • With total costs for the campaign being $56,000, the net income was $779,911.
  • 41% increase in gross revenue over the previous year campaign
  • 11% increase in response rate over the previous year campaign

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