CaringBridge put the emphasis on its constituents in its annual campaign, highlighting the importance of donors for an organization that relies almost entirely on individual donations for its funding. And while HealthConnect One gets a good chunk of funding through foundational grants, it tapped its board of directors to help ignite its year-end fundraising campaign to grow individual giving.
You Are Powerful
When a nonprofit organization relies almost entirely on individual donations for its funding, it puts a lot of pressure on the fundraising team to come up with engaging, relevant and, most importantly, successful campaigns.
CaringBridge, which provides free websites that connect people experiencing significant health challenges to family and friends by chronicling their health journeys, is such an organization. Nearly all of its funding comes from individual donors so it can continue to work on its mission to amplify the love, hope and compassion in the world to make each health journey easier through community. So each year, CaringBridge embarks on two annual campaigns — one in June and another at year end. And while the bulk of donations typically come in during year-end campaigns — it's not called the giving season for nothing — CaringBridge found tremendous success with its midyear "You Are Powerful" campaign in 2011.
Acknowledging just how vital CaringBridge's donors and supporters are to its mission, the organization decided it was time to center an entire fundraising campaign around them. Thus, You Are Powerful was born.
"It was one of the first times that we really switched it around and instead of featuring all the great things about CaringBridge, we turned it around and made it be more about our authors and our visitors and our donors," says Senior Development Specialist Kelly Espy.
Realizing that its constituents interact with CaringBridge in a multitude of ways, the organization made You Are Powerful a truly multi channel campaign, utilizing direct mail, e-mail, social media, mobile, search engine optimization, video and Web — all done in-house.
"While we have done dedicated fundraising campaigns during this time period in the past, I think it's safe to say this campaigns was by far the most integrated," says Development Engagement Officer Amy Nelson.
The overall goals of the campaign were to raise $1 million and create a compelling, highly integrated, engaging campaign for CaringBridge constituents.
"One of our main goals was to focus on the 'you' in You Are Powerful," Nelson says. "We wanted to have CaringBridge constituents be able to see themselves and connect and identify with the messaging that we put forth and show donors that they really do have an impact — that gift to CaringBridge is powerful and benefits so many people."
Unlike many organizations, CaringBridge doesn't have very specific donor demographics, so the message had to be diverse enough to resonate with authors chronicling their journeys on CaringBridge sites, visitors who read those stories and interact, past donors, and even new prospects that came in contact with CaringBridge for the first time. That's a big task with more than 60,000 individual sites created in the past year and some 43 million people interacting with CaringBridge in a given year.
So Nelson and Espy sat down with the development staff and identified what they wanted people to feel and see during the campaign — no matter where they felt and saw it.
"One of our ultimate goals was wherever or however people interacted with CaringBridge during this time, they would see the You Are Powerful campaign and understand that call to action," Nelson says.
From past experience, CaringBridge anticipated that most gifts would come in through the individual sites, so another goal was to create mobile and e-communications strategies that communicated the campaign so when people visited those individual sites, they would be more likely to make gifts.
Based off those conversations about what CaringBridge wanted people to see and feel, a strong visual image of the You Are Powerful message was created — images of people raising up the You Are Powerful slogan — and elements were used for all the different touchpoints. They included a direct-mail piece; an e-mail campaign; thank-you acknowledgments; video; and social-media, mobile, search and Web messaging.
The direct mailer had two different versions: one to donors who contribute less than $500 a year and another to major donors, who contribute at least $500 annually. Each included a two-page letter with similar copy and a personal signature from CaringBridge founder and CEO Sona Mehring; however, the major-gift solicitation also included a description of CaringBridge's major-donor program and planned-giving information.
Both letters had the CaringBridge.org logo and a version of the You Are Powerful image, showing consistent branding, and both letters began with a personalized greeting and the opening sentence, "You Are Powerful!" in bold type. They also both highlighted the story of the Farrar family, detailing how Shawna Farrar launched a website for her son Ramsey after he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and how CaringBridge helped alleviate pressures of having to call and e-mail family and friends with updates by allowing them to simply visit the site.
Each letter included a testimonial quote from Shawna Farrar that she wrote only weeks after Ramsey's diagnosis: "Well, believe it or not I really look forward to doing this each night. It's sort of therapeutic for me."
However, there were some slight differences between the versions. For starters, the regular appeal included a photo of Ramsey, something that was absent from the major-donor letter. Also, the reply device was perforated to the bottom of the letter for the regular appeal, whereas the major-gift solicitation included a separate buckslip as the reply device. There were also slight differences in copy, though the tone was similar in each. Both versions were littered with "you" copy, describing just how vital donors are to CaringBridge and those it aids.
Each letter also gave an update of Ramsey today, along with a few bullet points on what "your gift will …" do, followed by a thank-you, the CEO's signature and a P.S. that read: "You can make your donation today at www.CaringBridge.org/powerful. Through your generosity, you have the power to make each health journey easier."
The biggest difference was in the reply forms. On the regular appeal, it asked for the donor's e-mail address and phone number, offering check boxes to keep the donor informed about how his or her donation helps connect families using CaringBridge, as well as an option to be listed as an anonymous donor. It also included another You Are Powerful image above a Charity Navigator Four Star Charity seal. On the reverse was an option to make your gift in tribute of a family using a CaringBridge site, allowing the donor to add the specific URL of that site and a tribute message.
Meanwhile, the major-donor letter had a reminder that the gift is tax-deductible, along with information on the major-gift program and planned-giving options where the reply device was on the regular appeal. CaringBridge's major-gift program is called the Leadership Giving Society for donors who contribute $500 or more annually to the organization. The text invited the donor to learn more about leadership giving by visiting the 2010 annual report, with a URL to view it, as well as providing a phone number and e-mail to discuss gifting options.
Below that was the planned-giving information, which was titled "PLANNING YOUR LEGACY IS IMPORTANT …" It invited the donor to "visit www.CaringBridge.org/PlannedGiving or call 651.789.3384 to learn more."
The reply device, which had more real estate as a buckslip, was also slightly different than in the regular appeal. It included a call-out box on annual-giving recognition, describing the different levels: Bridge of Hope ($20,000+), Bridge of Nurturing ($10,000-$19,999), Bridge of Helping ($2,500-$9,999), Bridge of Sharing ($1,000-$2,499) and Bridge of Encouragement ($500-$999). The reply device also included a different URL, www.CaringBridge.org/majorfunding, as well as a request to "Contact me to discuss including CaringBridge in my estate plans."
The reverse was identical to the regular reply device, plus it included CaringBridge's mission and put the thank-you in a separate box.
Coinciding with the direct mail was an e-mail campaign that began with a description of the You Are Powerful campaign in CaringBridge's June 2011 newsletter. It was a soft launch of the campaign featuring an invitation to give from the CEO, and most of the newsletter articles reinforced the campaign theme.
Then there were three separate e-mails sent, each with a subject line of "You Have the Power to Help Families," personal thank-you e-mails sent to donors after they made gifts in addition to the automatic confirmation e-mails, and a final thank-you follow-up featuring a personal thank-you video from Shawna Farrar.
The first e-mail was a an ask featuring the Farrar family story. A short, two-paragraph e-mail, it included the You Are Powerful image, a photo of Ramsey, the CaringBridge logo and a prominent "Donate Now" button, which took the donor to the CaringBridge donation landing page. The landing page featured the You Are Powerful campaign and provided options on making a tribute, giving levels, etc.
The second e-mail's main call to action was to watch and share the You Are Powerful video CaringBridge created. The copy was even shorter than the first e-mail, and the link to watch and share the video took the recipient to the You Are Powerful landing page, caringbridge.org/powerful, where he or she could make a donation easily by clicking on the Donate Now button. The short video could be easily shared via Facebook and Twitter as well, helping constituents spread the word.
The third e-mail was a direct ask, again with quick-hitting copy: "Your gift today makes CaringBridge possible. Generous donations from individuals like you ensure that this valuable service is available, accessible and provided at no charge to families. Because of you, families can connect with their community when they need it.
"Thank you for powering the CaringBridge community."
The next phase of e-mails was the acknowledgment stage, including those personal thank-yous, gift receipts and tax information, and the final follow-up thank-you from the Farrar family.
CaringBridge also updated social-media mentions of the campaign each time an e-mail went out, posting things to Facebook frequently about the campaign. Mobile was incorporated as well, with the mobile site functioning with the e-mails and messages, as well as having highlights and the ability to donate via the mobile site for the campaign. The campaign was mobile-friendly in every aspect. Then there were prominent stories and features about the campaign on CaringBridge's homepage, other website pages and on all the various pages set up by the authors chronicling their health journeys. Badges and apps were created to encourage giving, integrate the campaign and make it as accessible to everyone as possible. Those different channels were segmented appropriately to how authors, visitors and donors interacted with CaringBridge.
Campaign strategy and deployment
You Are Powerful was launched at the beginning of June and ran throughout the month, with the thank-you stage deployed in the first week of July. The first piece to go out was the direct-mail letter. Shortly thereafter, CaringBridge began its e-communications strategy. The first step in that process was a soft launch of the campaign through the CaringBridge e-newsletter, populated with stories to get constituents familiar with the look and feel of You Are Powerful. Nelson describes it as "an invitation from our CEO to really give and get involved in the campaign."
That was followed up by the "hard launch" of the e-mail campaign, deployed in three e-mails with specific calls to action followed by acknowledgments and the final thank-you e-mail. The first e-mail was the direct ask featuring the Farrar family's story, the same story that was featured in the direct-mail appeal; the main call to action was to make a donation so CaringBridge could continue its important work in allowing people to chronicle their health journeys and gain support through community. The next e-mail was the You Are Powerful video e-mail, which took recipients to the campaign landing page. Its main call to action was to watch and share the video, and coinciding with that was another ask on the landing page to donate. The final follow-up e-mail was another direct ask, this time short and direct asking for a gift.
Throughout, any time a donor made a gift, he or she got a subsequent thank-you e-mail on top of the auto-response tax receipt. It was personalized and more authentic than the standard e-receipt. Then to wrap things up, a thank-you e-mail featuring a video from the Farrar family directly thanking donors was sent out the first week of July, providing a touching, personal message.
Alongside all of that e-communications, Espy says, every time CaringBridge sent an e-mail, it also updated that same information on Facebook and Twitter to drive people to either the donation form or the video. The messaging also was viewable on mobile devices, really helping hit supporters anywhere they may be.
So often, you hear fundraising professionals stress the importance of the donor, the importance of using more "you" language than "we" language. That was clearly the driving force behind the You Are Powerful campaign, and the results proved the theory correct.
Typically during its end-of-spring, early-summer annual campaign, CaringBridge sees a spike in donations of around 35 percent compared to giving the rest of the year. With the You Are Powerful campaign, the organization saw that balloon to a 58 percent increase in gifts. That resulted in CaringBridge not only reaching its $1 million goal, but exceeding it by bringing in more than $1.25 million. To put that in perspective, CaringBridge raised $754,000 in that same time period in 2010.
Nelson and Espy credit the collaboration across departments for the success of the campaign. The IT folks worked hard on optimizing the campaign for mobile communications and helped the development team with how best to incorporate the channel. The marketing team aided in the design, and everyone chipped in with ideas and shaping the campaign.
Of course, the focus on the donors and the people CaringBridge serves also played a huge role.
"We learned that we can't ever forget that at the heart of any fundraising campaign are the donors and the people we exist to serve," Nelson says. "The more we can illustrate that and show the true reason for being and how we exist to help people and we do it together with our supporters, the better."
"It was obvious when we shared the video with the staff that we had hit the mark. People felt, 'Yep, that's exactly what we want people to feel.' That was a proud moment," Espy adds.
The campaign was such a success that the elements and tactics CaringBridge used are now standard cornerstones of its campaigns going forward. It's easy to see why, given the response and feedback from the CaringBridge community.
"We were very excited to see how people responded. We had a constituent call in ask if they could order a T-shirt with the [You Are Powerful] imagery on it. That's one of the greatest things you can hear after a campaign," Nelson says. "At the end of the day, you know you've done something right when people want to wear your campaign."
Unlike CaringBridge, fellow health care nonprofit HealthConnect One does not rely almost entirely on individual donations for the bulk of its funding. The Chicago-based organization, missioned to advance respectful, community-based, peer-to-peer support for pregnancy, birth, breast feeding and early parenting by working with grassroots maternal and child health and social services providers through training, recently secured a $3 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and also applied for funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
However, that doesn't make its annual end-of-year fundraising campaign any less important, says Development Director Cindy Ogrin, because individual giving is vital for any organization to sustain itself for the long haul. So every year, HealthConnect One embarks on an annual fundraising appeal in conjunction with its annual report to try and get donors to continue to give, ideally at a higher level than the year before.
With its 25-year anniversary on the horizon, HealthConnect One wanted to create a campaign that really drove home the vision while celebrating the history of the organization. Thus, the One Birth theme was born for the 2011 multichannel year-end campaign, which included a direct-mail piece, four e-mails, online giving, social media and a short media story, all created in-house.
The goals of the One Birth campaign were to raise $20,000 — $5,000 more than the year before; reach new donors through media outlets; and garner positive feedback from the theme, design and clarity of message compared to years past.
To do that, HealthConnect One laid out a strategy to integrate all aspects of the campaign with the same language, images and themes to represent the One Birth campaign.
Another objective was to get more board involvement. With a lean staff of 11 full-time employees, the development and communications departments worked closely together but needed a boost from the board of directors and associate board. So at board meetings in November and December, Ogrin provided board members cards, letters and anything else they'd need to write personal notes to people in their circles asking for support. She gave them packets of information and made it easier for the board to get involved in the hopes that members would take ownership of their own personal fundraising goals.
With more board involvement, the goal was to hit several target audiences in one fell swoop: current donors, lapsed donors who hadn't given the in past two years, partner organizations and board members' personal contacts. It's a "mixed bag of donors," says Ogrin, with people giving anywhere from $5 to $3,000 annually.
Each year, the direct-mail component is HealthConnect One's annual report mailed with a personal letter from Executive Director Rachel Abramson. The one-page letter in 2011 described the vital work HealthConnect One provides for newborns and young parents, and stressed: "Your financial help allows us to refine our training models, build trust, share knowledge, spark program pilots …
"… How will you respond? One birth at a time, HC One changes families, communities and agencies. Right now a baby is being born. Partner with us this year, in our 25th year, to start more babies on the road to a healthy life. Start with us at the beginning. Where it counts."
Following the direct mailer, four e-mails were incorporated, each with a similar look and feel. The first had a subject line of "It's a Girl!" The message had an image of a baby below the quote, "It's a Baby Girl!" It described how HealthConnect One has been inside delivery rooms supporting healthy births for 25 years and highlighted in underlined text in a different color: "TOGETHER, WE CAN MAKE A CHANGE!"
The message read: "A gift to HealthConnect One starts babies on the road to a healthy life. Your donation will help us expand to the communities that want our support. Every day HC One celebrates with new families in their delight — 'it's a boy!' 'it's a girl!' Partner with us so together we can say — 'it's a healthy baby!'"
Then there was a "Click here to make a Donation" hyperlink that took recipients to the donation landing page.
The next e-mail had the subject line "Happiness in four words." Again, inside it had an image of a baby girl under the heading, "It's a Healthy Baby!" That was followed by essentially the same copy as the first e-mail, with the same highlighted text and call to action.
The third e-mail's subject line was "Occupy Moms." It had an image of a mother with four children around her under the heading "Calling All Babies!" Once again, it followed the same template as the other e-mails, with slightly altered copy.
Finally, the fourth e-mail had a subject line of "One Powerful Year." Under the heading "The Power of One Birth" was the same image of a baby used in the original e-mail. This time, the copy focused a little more on HealthConnect One's 25th anniversary: "Our Baby, HealthConnect One, turns 25 this year because of YOUR support!"
Following that was a quote from Abramson and a hyperlink to "Click here to make a 2011 Donation," and it closed, "Help us stay committed to families for another 25 years!"
Any time a donor made a gift, HealthConnect One also sent a thank-you note within a week. It was a personal note from Ogrin that she signed and included a gift receipt for tax purposes. Then through January and February, Abramson wrote personal thank-you letters to donors who donated over a certain amount, as well as donors she has personal relationships with. Those thank-yous not only thanked donors, but invited them for phone calls or face-to-face meetings as well.
As part of the One Birth campaign, HealthConnect One was also featured in a Dec. 13 story in DailyWorth, a website community of women who talk money, titled "Give Where the Women Are." It highlighted HealthConnect One along with two other nonprofits: the Global Fund for Women and the White House Project.
HealthConnect One also updated Facebook with mentions any time an e-mail was deployed, and encouraged board members and supporters to post when they made donations on Facebook.
Campaign strategy and deployment
The campaign ran from Thanksgiving through December, with the personal thank-you phase in January and February. The direct-mail pieces, about 2,000 total, were sent before Dec. 1. Then the e-mail campaign launched the first week of December. The second was deployed in the middle of the month, the third right before Christmas and the last one right before New Years. The e-mails went to about 2,000 HealthConnect One e-mail subscribers.
At the same time, the organization was in the midst of applying for the Kellogg grant and funding through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
"We had a lot of activity going on in December and January, so we had to coordinate when our e-mails went out so that our donors didn't feel bombarded by announcement after announcement," Ogrin says.
To combat oversolicitation, HealthConnect One encouraged staff and constituents to comment on Facebook about the campaign, alerting the network when they gave or why it's important to give. Board members and other individuals also posted updates on their own Facebook pages, and some supporters created their own Causes pages.
Then, of course, the board of directors and associate board reached out to their own contacts to solicit support, something that has been a struggle for HealthConnect One in the past.
"It's been really difficult for us getting the board involved," Ogrin says. "… In September, we finally passed a give-or-get policy of $1,000 for each board member, and $25 for each associate board member. This process made it so much easier to talk to our board about fundraising."
HealthConnect One also put a mention of its One Birth campaign in its newsletter, and at the same time, when Ogrin found an opportunity to make phone calls to donors, she did — something that really helped increase fundraising.
Then came the acknowledgment phase, both with the thank-you within a week of receiving a gift, and the subsequent thank-yous in January and February.
While HealthConnect One is still tallying the total revenue from the campaign at press time, Ogrin says the One Birth campaign met the $20,000 goal. And she says a more aggressive campaign may have brought in even more dollars, but with a 25th anniversary event celebration slated for June 2012, the organization didn't want to overextend its reach and tap donors out.
Even with pulling back the reins a bit, the organization was able to reach its goal. Ogrin gives a lot of the credit to board members.
"Our board really helped this year. The board and the associate board took a new ownership over this and really aggressively reached out to their networks. We got donations from people that we hadn't gotten donations from in years that came through our board," she says.
Moving forward, Ogrin hopes to budget more time for personal contact — phone calls and meetings — with donors because fundraising is really about relationship building.
Another thing she realizes is that no matter what percentage of your funding comes in through individual donations, individual giving is vital to the survival of any nonprofit organization.
"It's been challenging as a development director figuring out how to allocate resources when everything's a top priority and how to devote time to a $20,000 campaign goal when you've just submitted a $3 million grant and you're looking at the future," Ogrin says. "It becomes hard to prioritize, but knowing that individual giving needs to grow to sustain an organization, the $20,000 is just as important as the $3 million grant." FS