Operation Smile Multi-Channel Campaign

Operation Smile achieves growth in new ways through multi-channel strategies

The challenge

Operation Smile, established in 1982, is a worldwide children’s medical charity specializing in engaging and training medical volunteers to provide the highest quality of care to children in need. With a network of over 6,000 volunteer medical professionals from over 60 countries, Operation Smile performs free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for thousands of impoverished children annually.

The organization approached Russ Reid in 2003 with a big vision to help more children around the world. With a single-channel direct mail program not delivering the growth they needed and an aggressive copycat competitor stepping up its acquisition efforts, Operation Smile challenged Russ Reid to increase the organization’s visibility, donor base and net revenue through a multi-channel marketing strategy. They needed growth. And lots of it.

Russ Reid solution

Growth through DRTV

Operation Smile volunteer surgeons can repair and transform children’s lives in as little as 45 minutes. The amazing before-and-after stories of Operation Smile’s work provided Russ Reid with the heartwarming insights and images needed to craft a compelling offer. And what an offer it was.

Russ Reid helped Operation Smile define and market one of the most tangible offers in the nonprofit world. For $240, a child’s life can be completely transformed by a surgery. And there were images to prove it. To make the giving opportunity accessible to as many people as possible, we also developed a step-down offer that allowed donors to give just $20 a month and still have a real and significant impact.

Russ Reid TV crews went to Vietnam and Venezuela to capture the stories of transformation and create a direct response television program designed to dramatically increase mass exposure and acquire valuable donors.

With two 30-minute TV shows, Operation Smile and Russ Reid seized the opportunity to test and fine-tune the offer, make strategic media buys, develop powerful creative, enter untapped markets, set up solid positioning of the show and even refine call center scripting.

Spot TV successfully expanded into the Hispanic market, while long-form programs ran in the English market. A monthly billing program was created on the back-end to capture first gift fulfillment, credit card donors, and to keep TV-acquired donors engaged.

We engaged and managed telemarketing centers to handle phone donors and created landing pages for the 40% of donors more comfortable responding online.

 By adding TV, phone and digital to Operation Smile’s media mix, the donor file quickly expanded with two new types of high-value donors. Large single gift and monthly pledge supporters formed a broader, deeper and more committed pool of donors – the key to successful growth.

Growth through direct mail

While TV, phone and digital continued to be a success in acquiring valuable supporters, Russ Reid and Operation Smile partnered in crafting a direct mail program to integrate with the new TV focus. Implementing a thorough Direct Mail acquisition strategy, the donor file was extended outside of TV and the complete surgery offer. Russ Reid led vigorous tests on creative, list sources, co-ops, modeling and segmentation.

The result? Direct Mail acquisition results increased 59% over the previous 4 years.

DM piece

Growth – one city at a time

Multi-channel acquisition efforts did not stop there. To continue to grow Operation Smile’s donor file, Russ Reid developed a six-week citywide campaign to challenge communities to take action by joining local leaders who were already involved with Operation Smile. Launching the first campaign in Salt Lake City, Russ Reid crafted a layered media approach featuring long- and short-form television, radio spots and traffic sponsorships, online banners, bus and light rail signs, billboards and direct mail, all totaling an estimated 15.5 million impressions.

The campaign goal was to raise enough funds to provide 1,000 smiles and the Salt Lake City community delivered. Supporting major gift efforts as well, the campaign even moved one man to pledge 1,000 smiles himself and commit to raise funds for an additional 10,000 smiles.

Expanding supporter engagement



With diverse acquisition efforts bringing in high-value donors, Operation Smile asked Russ Reid to apply similar messaging and targeting strategies to cultivate their growing file.

Through Russ Reid’s comprehensive reporting and analytics, the cultivation file was segmented and targeted to optimize donor communication and increase response. Using best practices that Russ Reid has developed, we improved the creative and positioning of the offer in existing appeals while also creating new appeals.

Our analytical team identified an untapped segment of mid-level donors giving between $1,000 and $10,000 at a pop. Russ Reid and Operation Smile crafted a middle donor appeal with a unique offer to support the building of a care center in Ethiopia. Response to this offer was strong, and prompted us to launch an ongoing middle donor cultivation stream that has successfully increased net revenue and donor engagement.

As the cultivation file matured, Russ Reid’s Donor File Analysis identified lapsing and pre-lapsing segments of valuable donors. In collaboration with Russ Reid, Operation Smile implemented a multi-touch-point strategy to offset attrition and reactivate supporters. The results of this strategy were encouraging as donors were reactivated with higher average gifts, becoming more beneficial to the organization.

As opportunities arose, Operation Smile and Russ Reid were quick to identify, craft and test additional offers.

As Operation Smile moved to help in the aftermath of the Haiti 2010 earthquake, Operation Smile’s Emergency Response offer was created – expanding the organization’s capabilities and increasing support of their mission.


Banner Ad     

Seamless experience online

Armed with a track record of success, Operation Smile and Russ Reid launched a new brand initiative to better communicate Operation Smile to our audiences.

In keeping with the newly refreshed and focused brand, Operation Smile joined forces with Russ Reid to redesign the Operation Smile website with a concentration on fundraising. The new website was a great success, and significantly increased the organization’s income.



Growth through new products

Looking to take advantage of holiday shopping behavior, Russ Reid and Operation Smile launched an Operation Smile Holiday Gift Catalog. The catalog diversified the cultivation lineup and allowed donors to give a Christmas gift of hope and transformation in the name of friends and family. The new Holiday Giving Catalog was promoted through the media by Operation Smile’s A-list celebrities, and was a success with their current donor base. With the increase in online shopping, Russ Reid refreshed the catalog’s e-commerce site to streamline the catalog giving experience and increase online gifts.


Gift catalog


Together, Operation Smile and Russ Reid have partnered to create the kind of significant revenue growth that will fuel Operation Smile’s life-changing work.

Since 2003, Operation Smile has evolved into a sophisticated, multi-channel and holistic marketing organization that has achieved year over year, double-digit donor and revenue growth with a healthy ROI. Through alignment of multiple channels and consistent messaging across layered media efforts, Operation Smile has:

•     Increased average gift by 51%

•     Increased annual giving per donor by 93%

•     Increased number of active donors by 324%

•     Increased direct response revenue by 719%

•     Achieved ranking on the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100

•     Won the 2008 DMA Nonprofit Federation “Nonprofit Organization of the Year” Award

Most importantly: forever changed the lives of more than 200,000 girls and boys with surgery.