How the Canadian Cancer Society attracted new donors and boosted response rate
By Brendan Read
The key to fundraising campaigns is attracting potential donors’ attention. But how can this best be done when individuals (and corporations) are being overwhelmed with advertising and marketing pitches every waking hour on a growing array of channels?
The hallmark of the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is its long-running (see box) April Daffodil Campaign. It raises much-needed funds and awareness for groundbreaking cancer research and a national support system that helps people affected by cancer.
The Daffodil Campaign is an integrated combination of direct mail, online advertising and nationwide community-led volunteer canvassing, supplemented by local media coverage of community events and workplace giving. The direct mail and advertising generate donor awareness and interest that are then solidified when the volunteers knock on their doors, providing the faces behind the words.
“The creative in the direct mail pieces leverages the letterhead to showcase the need — nearly 1 in 2 of us is expected to develop cancer in our lifetime — and the letter copy focused on how Canadians can donate and make an impact for people living with cancer,” explained Lina Mohamed, director, Direct Response & Innovation, Canadian Cancer Society.
Acquiring new donors
The high rate of cancer is prompting the need to find new ways to treat the disease. As a result, more money will have to be found and spent on cancer research.
At the same time, all not-for-profits, including the Canadian Cancer Society, are faced with having to replenish their donor bases because donors stop giving, or they’re passing away. As a result, charities need to acquire net new donors in order to finance their important, life-changing work.
For these reasons the Canadian Cancer Society decided, in late 2018, to launch a donor acquisition program as part of its 2019 Daffodil Campaign. It would be driven by direct mail.
“When compared to other channels, direct mail is still a cost-effective way to reach net new donors,” said Mohamed. “It provides value-exchange and it creates a personal, emotive and authentic connection with donors.”
The organization contacted Stephen Thomas Ltd (ST), its fundraising agency partner, to develop a direct mail strategy. The goal was to attain about a 1.5% response rate and an average gift of $40.
Coinciding with the existing branded donor mailing program, the Canadian Cancer Society literally returned to its daffodil roots in its branding. More emphasis was placed on the brighter, positive brand assets (its distinctive yellow, a beautiful but less dominant blue, and greater focus on the daffodil image).
“As we continue to evolve our brand, we recognize that Canadians continue to feel connected to the daffodil as it resonates with people as a symbol of hope and courage. We know that cancer changes everything, but it doesn’t have to define who you are,” said Mohamed. “We work to support those who will be diagnosed with cancer by helping enhance their quality of life. This is why our brand reflects our vision of a world where no one fears cancer because life is bigger than cancer.”
The new donor acquisition package included an envelope, letter, business reply envelope and a carrier with a Daffodil pin for donors to wear and show their support, during the campaign, for people facing cancer.
But this campaign fundamentally differed from the existing donor program in that it did not include any corporate branding on the outer envelope (OE). The existing donor mailers had a daffodil motif on the OE with a yellow background.
Instead, the recipients of the donor acquisition mailers would see a yellow background and just three words: “Do Not Bend” in large font on the front. Intrigue would drive them to open the envelopes.
The messaging on the OE, “Do Not Bend”, was used because the Canadian Cancer Society wanted the recipient to be mindful that there was something in the package for them that required care in opening the envelope, explained Mohamed. The organization sought to shift the focus from showcasing its work to showing how its national support system and groundbreaking research were making a significant impact for people affected by cancer.
“We wanted the ‘Do Not Bend’ campaign to be distinct, to surprise and engage potential donors when the pieces are opened,” said Mohamed. “The creative concept appealed to our overall goal to leverage and integrate existing Daffodil assets from the wider campaign. We selected the concept due to the simplicity of the creative paired against the ‘Do Not Bend’ messaging, which created a sense of curiosity for the recipient to open the envelope. It was compelling.”
In deciding on which potential donors to reach, the Canadian Cancer Society created a profile from its existing donor base using data analytics tools that it then shared with ST. ST’s data and media services department selected third party lists, weighted toward those with recent philanthropic responses to direct mail.
“We ensured that there would be no duplication between lists of our current donors and those names appearing on acquisition lists,” said Mohamed. “Our strategy is distinct for each audience.”
Both acquisition and existing donor packages were sent in mid-to-late March. The timing would also allow recipients to wear their daffodil pins in time for local awareness events.
The new acquisition campaign exceeded expectations. People were opening, not bending the envelopes, and making donations, achieving a 2.2% response rate and bringing in 2,263 net new donors to the organization.
With the success of the “Do Not Bend” envelope the Canadian Cancer Society has made it the control for its 2020 Daffodil Acquisition Campaign. Because the organization is vested in continuous improvement CCS will be engaging in various testing strategies to boost performance.
“Our acquisition campaign has already generated a lot of new donor activation,” said Mohamed. “Our key takeaway from this campaign was the simple yet intriguing nature of the envelope and messaging, and how to scale the “Do Not Bend” strategy into other direct mail campaigns without overusing the creative concept. We’re really pleased with the work of Stephen Thomas Ltd on this campaign.”
Brendan Read is the Editor of DM Magazine.
Daffodil Campaign history
The roots of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Campaign date back to the 1950s when volunteers would host afternoon tea fundraisers. At one of these events, volunteers decorated tables with yellow daffodils to promote a cheerful and hopeful mood. These events then became known as daffodil teas.
In 1954, a daffodil tea was hosted by Lady Flora Eaton at the now defunct Eaton’s department store in Toronto, Ontario, which was attended by 700 women. A few years later, the Canadian Cancer Society began to sell daffodils as a fundraiser throughout April. In 2000, it officially adopted the daffodil as its logo to symbolize hope, strength and resilience.
The daffodil, says the Canadian Cancer Society’s web site, “is resilient. It survives our harsh winters and is the first flower to bloom in the spring — a time of renewal and hope. The daffodil is a symbol of strength, courage and life.”