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Case Study: Fresh Messaging for a Spectacular Result

RAN appeal Art collage

With a new approach to messaging and positioning, Avalon gave new life to the Rainforest Action Network’s appeal program.

Objective: Given the multitude of nonprofits working in the environmental sector, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) needed a way to make its unique brand of activism stand out for donors. So Avalon sought to appeal to them with a fresh messaging approach and a strong case for support.

Strategy and Audience: Previous RAN appeals focused on the destructive environmental consequences of clear cutting rainforests—compelling, but missing the more human story. Our new messaging focused on the wildlife that is being impacted in the rush to produce cheap palm oil in the Leuser Ecosystem—the last place on earth where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinos, and sun bears can still be found living together.

Our window carrier featured a photo of an adorable baby orangutan and its mother, with the teaser “Don’t let your snacks destroy their future…” The two-page letter from RAN Executive Director Lindsey Allen got right to the point—engaging donors with the stark truth about the devastation to the rainforest and the animals that live there that results from harvesting palm oil for our snack foods. We challenged RAN donors to do something about this situation, then provided two solutions: one, sign the enclosed petition to PepsiCo, a leading purchaser of “conflict” palm oil; and two, make a contribution to support RAN’s campaigns to end rainforest destruction.

The full-page reply form echoed the letter’s urgency and important message, and included a three-paragraph petition to PepsiCo outlining what’s at stake and imploring the company to do the right thing.

National Museum of African American History and Culture – Successful Online List Building


Creating a multi-channel fundraising program for a Museum that members cannot yet visit presents a unique set of challenges. A targeted, multi-channel approach is the key to getting prospects to support this remarkably important addition to the National Mall.

Challenge: Avalon partnered with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to build a file of Charter Members throughout the Museum’s construction and grand opening phases. As part of the Museum’s goal of attracting loyal and valuable multi-channel donors, we were tasked with expanding the Museum’s file of online donors and supporters.

Strategy: Avalon approached online list building from two angles. First, in 2015 we initiated a Membership Month campaign to recruit online members with a mission-based case for support for this critically important Museum. Next, after the success of Membership Month, we created an online list-building campaign through carefully targeted online advertising via remarketing and Facebook ads, as well as petition campaigns through Care2 and change.org to engage and sign up new online supporters.

Results: The online list-building campaign was a tremendous success for NMAAHC—and ultimately over 10,000 people took action as a result. The remarketing program had click-through rates well above industry averages and targeted list-building ads that appeared on CNN, Huffington Post, Instagram, and Radar Online, to name a few. Notably, the remarketing and Facebook ad campaign delivered a cost per acquisition (CPA) that returned its investment in just six months, thanks to an integrated follow-up strategy designed to generate additional actions and added gifts.

We continue to work with NMAAHC to engage members across multiple communications channels to further bond members to the Museum, telling stories of what their support has accomplished, and the opportunities for continued partnership that lie ahead.

Case Study: Match vs. Challenge: Can You Guess the Winner?

 NPCA Matching Gift vs Challenge Collage v2

Challenge: At a time when many direct marketing fundraisers are looking for the next silver bullet, Avalon is constantly challenging ourselves to find ways to reliably boost appeal revenue and response for our clients. Recently, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) sought a way to ramp up an appeal without breaking the bank. We decided to test a tried-and-true strategy to show that sometimes the best approach is to re-use a tactic that’s been successful year after year.

Strategy: For NPCA’s spring 2016 appeal, we conducted a head-to-head test of a matching gift vs. a challenge gift.

For the match, the letter explained that “A generous group of NPCA supporters has offered to match contributions to our work, up to a total of $150,000.” We showed donors the math—how a gift of $50 would grow to $100, a $75 gift would become $150, etc.—and added urgency with a request to respond within 10 days.

For the challenge version, the letter read “A leading group of NPCA supporters has challenged us to raise the ambitious sum of $150,000 to invest in our work,” thus encouraging donors to “rise to the challenge” within 10 days—the classic thermometer approach.

Results: The results were tremendous—and very clear. The matching gift version raised 67% more revenue than the challenge, with a 57% higher response rate. These results echoed the success we’ve had with matching gift appeals for other Avalon clients.

While raising the funds for a match can be a challenge in itself, the promise of doubling the donor’s gift makes a tangible difference in response and revenue. Even though a matching gift strategy has been used for years, it remains a dependable means of engaging donors and improving results.

Case Study: A Fresh Approach for the Maryland Food Bank

Maryland Food Bank - Email  Oct Appeal Package

Objective: Maryland Food Bank (MFB) partnered with Avalon in 2015 to reinvigorate their program by finding fresh approaches for their direct marketing campaigns. To some extent, MFB had relied on creative that was somewhat generic, so we sought to help them break out of the mold and distinguish MFB in the marketplace.

Strategy and Results: Avalon took a customized approach to improving MFB’s program—beginning with an analysis of what was working and what areas needed a boost. Increasing the level of channel integration proved to be just what the renewal and appeal programs needed. We more fully defined and expanded the renewal series with additional multi-channel efforts and improved the targeting to expand the appeal audience—using data-driven analytics to identify those most likely to give.

Maryland Food Bank August Appeal OEIn terms of creative, we refreshed the content and tested imagery to improve results. Our new copy strategy focused on MFB’s mission, and we capitalized on timing and seasonal messaging for the best response. For example, our first DM Back-to-School Matching Gift appeal highlighted the special programs MFB designed to make sure kids don’t go to school hungry. With a 25% lift in gross revenue per thousand over the previous year’s appeal, this appeal proved to be a huge success for MFB.

Similarly, the Thanksgiving appeal is a good example of how we customized our approach for maximum results. For higher-dollar donors—the “MFB 1000” giving circle—we sent a high-touch, personalized appeal describing the struggle of families who don’t have enough to eat at a time when most Americans are enjoying an ample Thanksgiving bounty. To advance the theme of sharing, we enclosed recipe cards for holiday dishes that MFB volunteers planned to prepare for low-income families. We also included a placemat for the donor to sign with a thoughtful message for guests at MFB’s Thanksgiving table. The low-dollar appeal was a simpler version of this package with the same meaningful incentives and an email appeal that mirrored the mail.

National/Chapter Fundraising with a Local Focus

CC 3.15 Case Study Chapter Package Images
When Avalon began working with Common Cause, the progressive nonprofit watchdog and political advocacy group sought a way to streamline its National/state chapter fundraising.

With National’s fundraising interrupted several times a year by in-house mailing windows for the 35 state chapters (using National’s list), neither National nor the state chapters were fully maximizing their fundraising potential. State chapters mailed their own appeals with varying degrees of success, and National lost an opportunity to bring in additional revenue during those black-out windows. Avalon’s task was to help Common Cause take its state chapter fundraising to a new level of success by better integrating it with National’s overall fundraising strategy, while improving and coordinating overall messaging.

Strategy: To ramp up the effectiveness of the state chapter fundraising while simplifying the production process and cutting costs across the board, we tested various formats and techniques. These include letter copy that echoes and reinforces themes from Common Cause National’s marketing campaigns, with custom state-chapter-specific sections highlighting details about their accomplishments and the challenges ahead.

For our other approach, we produced a comprehensive letter from National President Miles Rapoport outlining successes in the states, as well as the common goals and challenges ahead for Common Cause as a whole.

We tested numerous formats and signers, including the National president, a nationally recognized National board chair, and state executive directors.

We dovetailed the state chapter appeals with Common Cause National’s appeal and renewal schedule, pushing a unified message across the country, with a cohesive look and feel for a stronger impact. The major themes — safeguarding voting rights for all eligible citizens and putting power back in the hands of the people by enacting long-overdue reforms in political redistricting — resonated well on both the national and local levels.

Case Study: Recruiting and Upgrading Sustainers Digitally

FS Case Study grouped

Given the long-term value and loyalty of monthly donors, sustainer recruitment and upgrading are crucial strategies for ensuring steady, reliable income. Traditionally, Avalon has found that telemarketing is the best way to recruit and upgrade sustainers, even though costs are high. But the less expensive digital approach we recently tested and honed for our client Farm Sanctuary has proven to be a real winner.

Objective: With ongoing pressure to increase revenue to fund more animal rescues and ongoing care for sanctuary residents, Farm Sanctuary sought to add 200 new monthly donors to its sustaining membership. Budget was a concern, given the high costs of telemarketing and/or mailing to recruit and upgrade monthly sustainers. To bring down expenses, Avalon created and deployed a multi-effort digital sustainer invitation campaign. Using its compelling case for ongoing support, Farm Sanctuary was able to build urgency and engage new sustainers.

Strategy: To reach Farm Sanctuary’s ambitious goal, Avalon applied a new approach to Farm Sanctuary’s more institutional, traditional sustainer invitation—giving storytelling a lead role in the online strategy.

Urgency was the primary call to action in the two-week, three-email series. The first email introduced readers to a newborn lamb, Romy, who had been clinging to life when he was brought to Farm Sanctuary. The email described Romy’s plight and recovery, as well as “…Farm Sanctuary’s work on behalf of suffering farm animals—rescuing the abused, caring for the sick and injured, educating the public, and advocating for an end to the horrors of factory farming month after month.”

We broke down the ask, explaining that sustainers’ monthly donations go further and help daily. And we emphasized the fact the smaller increments sustainers give over time—even as little as pennies a day—make a tremendous difference. Additionally, sustaining gifts provide a steady stream of critical revenue so Farm Sanctuary can better plan for and fulfill its mission.

The second email ramped up the urgency of reaching the goal of 200 new sustainers by the deadline; introduced readers to another rescued animal; and presented a thermometer-style progress report showing how many sustainers had joined since the first email. The third email was brief and to the point, highlighting the themes of the first two emails and urging supporters to put the campaign over the top by becoming a sustainer before the 24-hour deadline expired.

The campaign’s message was reinforced through other channels, with an ask in Farm Sanctuary’s monthly e-newsletter and on its home page.

The final component of this campaign was a sustainer upgrade segment. To bring down creative costs, we used a version of the first sustainer recruitment email and added a layer of back-end customer service to ensure quality control as Farm Sanctuary updated its data.