Best Friends: DM Acquisition & Middle Donor campaigns

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Case study: Best Friends reverts a downward trend and doubles projected revenue with a 540% return on investment

The challenge

When Best Friends Animal Society – the country’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals – came to Russ Reid in 2004, their 10-year acquisition control package was experiencing significant fatigue. No test treatments had outperformed the control, and response was starting to decline. Drastically. Their file growth was nearly flat.

Additionally, they needed help developing a previously untapped middle donor audience to help fuel that essential tier of the donor pyramid.

Russ Reid solution

Given the challenge at hand, our goals were clear:

  • Goal #1: Grow the file. Dramatically.
  • Goal #2: Target the highest-quality donors for future mid-level upgrades

To achieve Goal #1, we decided to keep the same offer, as it was fairly strong: Sponsor a dog or cat for $17. Provide food, shelter, vet care, and a loving home. $25 pays for sponsorship – plus Best Friends Magazine. After reviewing the data and donor file history, we also decided to target maintaining the average gift at $25+.

From an audience perspective, we looked at previous list-level results and applied our proprietary approach to list selection and strategy, including lists from causes that showed a high propensity to animal welfare causes.

Creative, we identified that we needed to express Best Friends’ brand and personality in a way that would better reflect their mission, so we structured a 4-way test as follows:

  1. Improved control package
  2. Premium-driven/story-driven package
  3. Tangible involvement device
  4. Dimensional involvement device

All 4 tests beat the control in response and ROI. The winning package was the one with the tangible involvement device. It motivated the highest average gift at $26; moreover, it increased response over the control by 12.25 times.

Now with a winning package, we moved on to tackle Goal #2: developing an untapped middle donor audience.

With a healthy new file of focused donors, we employed segment-level data and modeling strategies to select a group of 38,000 prospects with strong potential to move up the ladder into monthly giving and larger gifts.

Using a three-part mailing, one featuring a DVD with the lovable faces and heartwarming stories of special-needs animals, we doubled the projected revenue with a 22% response, an average gift of over $270 (against a goal of $120) and a 540% return on investment.

Outcome

Direct mail acquisition:

  • All 4 tests beat the control in response and ROI.
  • The winning package motivated at $26 average gift.
  • The winning package increased response over the control by 12.25 times.
  • Ongoing testing yielded the same results, but reduced cost per donor by $2.
  • Ongoing testing yielded a new seasonal co-control with holiday labels.

Middle donor development:

  • Doubled projected revenue with a 22% response
  • Achieved average gift of $270 – beating projections by 125%
  • Achieved a 540% ROI

Additionally, Russ Reid continued to evolve and expand Best Friends’ fundraising with a powerful planned giving kit, further middle donor success, and a move into television. So even as donors were developed into higher-value partners, a steady stream of larger gift-givers continued to feed and grow the program.

To view a downloadable PDF of this case study, click here.