Leap of Faith
City of Hope realized it had a problem. In 2005, the now 95-year-old Los Angeles-based biomedical research, treatment and educational institution had been mailing an average of 11 annual appeals for about five years. But a changing of the guard that led to a fresh analysis of the development department’s overall effectiveness revealed no growth in net revenue from annual appeals since the program was first outsourced in 2000.
It was a major red flag for Diana Keim, senior director of development at City of Hope, who was among the new leadership staff to come aboard in 2005. She concluded that the annual-giving department wasn’t being a good steward of City of Hope’s money and needed to find a way to “right the ship.”
The department reviewed who its partners were, what its messaging was and, ultimately, what it wanted out of its direct-mail program. City of Hope had done its first direct-mail campaign in-house as part of its annual-giving program in 1983. It continued to do so for nearly two decades until 2000, when it decided to outsource the program.
For the next few years, it struggled to find the right fit with an agency and achieve the voice it wanted — one that intertwined the research City of Hope was doing with patient stories. It saw the need for three things: a solid partner agency, strong messaging and more net revenue going back to the hospital without increased costs to the program.
The organization sent out an RFP in search of a vendor that could make that happen. Lanham, Md.-based database-marketing agency Merkle answered the call with a surprising solution.
“When we took them on, one of the biggest things we realized through doing a deep-file analysis is that City of Hope was not optimizing their number of mailings to their donors,” Merkle Account Director Kristen Oaksmith says.