CASE STUDY: Doctors Without Borders USA/Medecins Sans Frontieres
August 18, 2005
By Abny Santicola
Associate editor, FundRaising Success
In a session on second-gift conversion strategies, Alyssa Herman, director of development for international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders USA/Medecins Sans Frontieres, addressed the strategy her organization used to convert one-time, emergency donors earlier this year.
According to Herman, in early- and mid-2004 new-donor conversion was not a high priority for MSF, which was focusing instead on lapsed-donor reactivation. In the wake of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004, MSF acquired more than 130,000 donors in a two-week period, mostly through the Web. This number of donors, Herman says, is "more than what was projected through direct-mail acquisition for an entire year," and it pushed new-donor conversion to the forefront.
Within two days following the tsunami, MSF had raised more than enough to meet the needs in Asia. So the organization posted that information on its Web site and sent letters to donors requesting permission to use their gifts in other critical areas -- a surprising move that ultimately was viewed positively by both the media and the public and a step in the right direction in terms of conversion.
As part of its conversion strategy, MSF wanted to get gifts on file and acknowledged quickly and to begin building relationships with tsunami donors. It developed what Herman calls a "best of" conversion strategy, which incorporated the strongest appeals early in the relationship. MSF also began tracking appeal performance by acquisition source: Web vs. white mail vs. toll-free number; testing e-mail vs. direct mail and comparing them to Web-acquired donors; and testing telemarketing earlier in the relationship.
The organization decided on a four-package "best of" direct-mail series consisting of a name and label package, which includes a letter, sheet of labels and a four-page brochure; a package on containing outbreaks, consisting of a letter, reply device, six-page brochure and BRE; a two-color volunteer effort with two-page letter, reply device and BRE; and a field partner invitation effort made up of a two-page letter, reply device and BRE.