Better Than a Four-Leaf Clover
Transform an afternoon event into a successful multichannel campaign?
That sounds like a tall order. But as it heads into the third year of its Shamrocks for Kids campaign, Chicago-based Mercy Home for Boys and Girls seems to have pulled it off.
Since the late 1980s, Mercy Home has hosted A Touch of Green, a family-oriented, post-St. Patrick’s Day parade party to increase awareness about Mercy Home and its mission. As such, it wasn’t really a revenue generator. In years past, tickets to the event cost about $35.
“Our idea was to take sole focus away from the post-parade event, which up to 2003 wasn’t netting us a lot of money, and expand the idea into more of a multichannel marketing campaign,” says Peter Schoewe, director of direct marketing at Mercy Home.
Mercy Home was founded in 1887 and now has 14 residential homes in the Chicago area for boys and girls ages 11 to 21; the Catholic organization raises almost 98 percent of its funds from private individuals.
Mercy Home’s direct-marketing team originally wanted to create a Christmas-season mailing around the A Touch of Green event to raise awareness. Since Mercy Home sends a majority of its direct mail out during the Christmas season, that seemed like the best time to focus efforts on creating a campaign around A Touch of Green.
“But we came to the conclusion that there’s so much competition for attention during the Christmas season, it would be better for us to focus on a time of the year that wasn’t so heavily trafficked, and we already had media partners that were interested in participating,” Schoewe says.
Ultimately, the team created Mercy Home’s first-ever multichannel marketing campaign, Shamrocks for Kids, which kicked off in early February 2004.
Campaign objectives included building awareness about Mercy Home’s mission, especially among Chicagoans; acquiring new regional and national donors while still engaging existing Chicago-based donors; and raising money to remodel one of its 14 homes.Mercy Home’s development staff leveraged elements already in place for its St. Patrick’s Day event, including free radio public-service announcements, street banners and volunteers who sold shamrock pins with green ribbons on the street.
The expanded campaign included direct marketing to Mercy Home’s donor-acquisition file and housefile; viral marketing via its Web site; corporate sponsorships; shamrock pin days; a full breadth of media and advertising, including street banners, billboards, bus boards, and TV and radio PSAs; increased publicity for the A Touch of Green event; and enlisting a celebrity spokesperson. The A Touch of Green event’s name was changed in 2004 to Shamrocks for Kids to tie in better with the overall campaign.
“All these components have increased our donors’ interest and increased the interest of sponsors to hop on board,” Schoewe says.
Revenue sponsorships totalled $76,000 in 2005, and in-kind sponsors (products, entertainment services and media partnerships) totalled $18,225. Corporate sponsorships tripled after Mercy Home had more to offer in terms of a multichannel campaign, Schoewe says.
For the Shamrocks for Kids event in 2005, 4,500 invitations were mailed to 2,600 adults (2,100 paid and 400 complimentary), an increase of 400 invitations, or 18 percent, from 2004. In 2005, more than 1,000 children attended the event.
“There was some hesitation from our board and from the head of our organization about raising the price of admission to Shamrocks for Kids to turn it into a money-making event, because they wanted it to be a family-style event, where people could bring their kids,” Schoewe says, adding that the organization decided to raise admission prices modestly, to around $50 per ticket, and focus its fundraising efforts on the campaign’s other channels.
In the mail
The Shamrocks for Kids direct-mail package tells the story of Brendan, a Mercy Home child; explains the campaign elements; and asks for donations in “magic amounts,” or multiples of $17, to inspire support.
In 2005, the campaign’s second- year, donor-acquisition response was below expectations, at 1.08 percent, but the average gift was higher than expected, at $13.96. Average gift from the housefile mailing also was lower than expected, at $20.56, but response was higher, at 9.7 percent. In 2004, there was an 8 percent response from the housefile, with an average gift of $25.
“We’re very fortunate to be able to build off a very long history of direct-marketing innovation at Mercy Home. We have a very dedicated donor file, and we’ve been mailing for over 100 years,” Schoewe says.
In 2005, a lift note from actor Dennis Farina, a former Chicago cop who remembers bringing children to Mercy Home, was included in the package to test whether a celebrity endorsement would have an effect on donor response.
“Our thought was that since our donors are, on average, older, they may not have a connection with Dennis Farina, but the package without the lift note had a lower response rate than the one with a lift note,” Schoewe says. “That showed the celebrity endorsement did help, even with donors already familiar with us.”
Last year, Farina also helped create live and taped interviews on five radio stations and did two live radio reads. He also attended the post-parade event, helping to draw media attention. In 2004, the campaign’s first year, Farina and actor Martin Sheen both were endorsers.
“Having celebrity spokespeople really helped us get media attention. We got tons more media than we would have if we tried to publicize the event without them,” Schoewe adds.
In addition to direct-mail efforts, for about a week, right before St. Patrick’s Day, volunteers sell shamrock pins with green ribbons for Mercy Home on Chicago street corners, asking donors to wear the pins on certain days to show support. Typically, during the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, volunteers sell pins around two major parade routes, the South Side Parade and the Downtown Parade. In 2004 a $1 donation was asked per pin; in 2005, it was upped to $2.
“Selling the pins is more to raise awareness than to raise funds, but this is something we’re hoping to grow quite a bit,” Schoewe says. In 2005, pin sales netted $35,000.
Reaching out online
Mercy Home’s Web site was enhanced to promote visits and make it easy for people to donate. In mid-February, about a month before the Shamrocks for Kids event, the site frame is changed to emphasize the campaign. Mercy Home wanted to use the Internet to bolster its e-mail address file, raise revenue online and guarantee Web site credibility. Visitors were encouraged to wear the shamrock pin and make a donation.
For the 2005 campaign, there was record traffic to Mercy Home’s Web site pre-campaign to peak-campaign; the number of site visitors tripled from 5,500 to 17,000. The number of Web donors more than tripled from an average of 10 per week to 38. Although Mercy Home secured 7,534 new e-mail addresses, many were only seeking a free shamrock pin.
“Last year we tried giving away pins in exchange for an e-mail address, but this year we’re going to require the same donation as on the street to prevent getting overwhelmed by freebie seekers,” Schoewe says.
Total revenue from the Web last year was $9,535 from 267 donors, 266 of whom were new to Mercy Home, with an average gift of $35.71.
Mercy Home also contacts donors via e-mail for this campaign. In 2005, an initial e-mail — introducing the campaign, asking for donations and mentioning the pin — was sent on Feb. 24 to 3,000 addresses, and on March 17 a second e-mail was sent to nearly 10,000 addresses. That e-mail reminded recipients of Mercy Home kids’ stories and asked for $36 (one day of food, clothing and education for two children) or $144 (one day of the same for eight children). One of Mercy Home’s media partners, a local radio station, sent a similar e-mail to 13,000 listener names. In 2005, e-mail asks generated nearly $1,000, with an average gift of $77.
In 2005, Mercy Home’s radio sponsor donated PSAs and dedicated the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day to publicize the Shamrocks for Kids event and campaign. Local TV stations also donated PSAs.
While the Shamrocks for Kids event has stayed static, the campaign around it has been successful in generating revenue. In 2004, the campaign generated total revenue of $102,000, and jumped to $227,000 in 2005.
“In terms of our total revenue, this isn’t a major campaign, but we’re hoping to grow it, and gain momentum in 2006,” Schoewe says.