Case Study: Crisis in Kenya
When violence erupted in Kenya in late December 2007 following disputed national election results, relief organization Medical Assistance Programs International quickly launched a multipronged response. The MAP relief team rushed emergency blankets, food, lifesaving medicines and basic health care to meet the immediate survival needs of up to 10,000 people in the Kibera slums outside of Nairobi, one of the hardest-hit areas.
For more than 25 years, MAP had a well-established program office and strong community presence in Nairobi. Many of the people MAP was working with before the crisis suddenly had nothing. Their homes were burned down, and they fled for their lives.
The crisis touched MAP’s staff members, as well. MAP employees couldn’t access certain areas because of their tribal affiliations. Others couldn’t leave their homes because of the ongoing violence. Because of this history and connection with the community, MAP had a strong obligation to respond quickly to this disaster and bring help to people in need.
MAP’s Disaster Response Committee determined that the Kenya crisis had risen to a Category II Emergency. Projected costs to cover the lifesaving supplies and health care needed for thousands of injured and homeless people exceeded $100,000, and the impact of the event affected 25,000 to 200,000 people.
MAP needed to decide whether or not it should ask its donors for emergency support. The MAP team weighed several concerns:
● How would donors respond to this man-made disaster? From past experience, MAP knew that donors are most responsive to sudden and shocking disasters. Donors also respond more readily to catastrophes like hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes versus man-made disasters like the Kenya political crisis.
● Would donors be tapped out financially just weeks after a very successful year-end campaign?
● If MAP proceeded with this emergency appeal, how would it affect the results of its upcoming regular campaigns?
● Could the campaign launch quickly enough, i.e., while the disaster was still a lead story in the media and still top of mind among its constituents?
“The more difficult question for MAP was whether to exclusively pursue narrowcast strategies or go out more broadly to our file,” says Martin Smith, marketing and communications director for MAP International.
“Our donors have always supported us generously when we’ve asked, no matter the circumstances. However, our support base consists largely of experienced medical missionaries and health professionals quite familiar with Kenya,” he says. “Given the level of community ties, we felt our donors would welcome the opportunity to have impact in this crisis, so we decided to move forward with a full communication plan.”
Emergency plan activated
On the morning of Jan. 3, Smith sent an e-mail to fundraising agency partner LW Robbins Associates, alerting it to the emergency appeal — which needed to drop within four business days. The Robbins team went into action, based on the emergency procedures the two teams had set in place ahead of time.
Within an hour of the original e-mail, MAP sent details on its emergency response in Kenya to the Robbins team. Within two hours, the organization prepared a donor data file and sent it to Robbins for processing.
That morning, the Robbins team huddled for a quick brainstorm.
“We had to decide if we had enough details about the situation to develop a compelling appeal,” says Gretchen Soter-Moody, account supervisor at LW Robbins. “The story was unfolding hourly, and we wanted to make sure the information communicated to donors would be accurate in four days time.”
After discussions with MAP, the Robbins team determined it had adequate content to move forward with the appeal, which would feature a direct-mail package and a voice mail message sent a day after the mail drop. Meanwhile, MAP’s in-house team planned a three-touchpoint e-mail campaign.
At 2 p.m. that same afternoon, MAP issued its first e-mail to its subscribers, informing them about the crisis and the need for humanitarian aid.
“Our initial open and clickthrough rates suggested this event registered with our support base,” Smith says, explaining that open rates within the first 24 hours exceeded 10 percent and clickthrough rates were consistent with other successful emergency appeals.
On Jan. 4, a letter draft was sent to MAP for approval. The mailing was expedited through the creative and production processes and dropped on Jan. 9.
The preprinted emergency appeal package was purposefully designed to look like it was quickly and inexpensively produced. All the components used bright, yellow paper with bold, red “Emergency” type graphics. These preprinted shells were offset printed ahead of time to save production time in emergency situations. Letter copy and customized information related to a specific emergency could then be lasered quickly.
The large window outer envelope featured a bold “Emergency” teaser with the letter’s Johnson box copy, “Please help MAP rush emergency supplies and lifesaving medicines to Kenya,” partially revealed through the window. A First Class presort stamp was used to expedite delivery, expected in homes within two to three days nationwide.
The letter was signed by Chris Palusky, relief director for MAP International, who described MAP’s emergency response to the horrific violence and devastation in Kenya. It emphasized the urgent need to raise $100,000 quickly and asked donors to make an emergency gift to help save lives in Kenya. It did not include a specific ask amount, since a variable gift array was featured in the attached reply slip.
The P.S. encouraged donors to go to www.map.org/kenya to donate online and get the latest updates on the situation in Kenya, which was unfolding daily.
The preprinted reply envelope was lasered with the teaser copy, “URGENT! Please respond by February 14, 2008.” Adding response deadlines boosts response, and for this campaign it was critical to get funding immediately. Donors who had given $100 or more within zero to 24 months received a First Class stamp on the reply envelope to help lift response. Donors in other segments did not receive return postage.
MAP sends emergency appeals to more donor segments than its regular renewal campaigns. Audience selections included a small group of higher-value donors who have been very loyal to MAP and are only mailed four times per year in addition to emergency and special appeals. MAP also mailed deeply lapsed donor segments.
A 30-second voice mail message from Palusky to donors, thanking them for their support, was sent on Jan. 10. This was timed to introduce the direct-mail package, which was expected to arrive in homes Jan. 11-12. Producing the voice message was challenging. Palusky recorded the message using a satellite phone from Kenya, and the sound quality of the recording was only fair.
“We felt that the authenticity of this message from Chris, on site in Kenya, was more important than the sound quality. And donors did tell us that they appreciated hearing this news update as the crisis evolved,” Smith says.
Meanwhile, the MAP team wrote and deployed a series of e-mails to its donors and e-constituents. The first e-mail was deployed on Jan. 3, soon after the violence erupted, as noted previously. The second was sent on Jan. 7 with a firsthand account from Palusky in the Kibera slums. The note included details about the devastation and MAP’s crisis efforts and needs. The third e-mail, sent on Jan. 10, included a harrowing eyewitness account of the ongoing violence in Kenya, despite the fact that it no longer was the lead story in the media.
To address the concern about this campaign negatively affecting upcoming regular renewal campaigns, Robbins delayed the regular mailing schedule (featuring nonprofit postage) to provide some breathing room between appeals.
MAP donors are very loyal and generous. Their strong support of this appeal proved that again. The combined net revenue from the integrated campaigns achieved MAP’s $100,000 goal. The direct-mail campaign achieved a 7.23 percent response rate and a $54 average gift. The online campaign achieved a 22 percent open rate and a 2 percent clickthrough rate, a significant lift in results compared to regular e-solicitations.
The Kenya Emergency Appeal performed on par with MAP’s previous man-made emergency campaigns such as those for Darfur and Iraq, which each had a 7 percent response rate and $70 average gift. As noted earlier, natural disasters tend to drive stronger response. For instance, MAP’s 2004 tsunami campaigns achieved 10 percent response rates with a $90 average gift.
Keeping donors informed
MAP sent a special “Crisis in Kenya” update campaign in April to keep donors informed of its progress and demonstrate its strong investment in the Kenya community. Although the situation has stabilized, the appeal describes MAP’s important work caring for homeless people in displaced persons camps and emphasizes its ongoing need for financial support from its donors.
As this article goes to press, MAP is launching another emergency campaign in response to the Myanmar cyclone disaster. This campaign also will include multiple touchpoints of direct mail, voice messaging and e-mail. FS