American Heart Association educates across channels

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Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. The American Heart Association aims to change that through the use of its direct mail program, neighbor campaign and online initiatives.

The association began using a cross-marketing platform last year in a continuing effort to integrate its various means of education and donation opportunities.

Online, individuals can learn about the things to do to prevent heart disease, the symptoms to watch for, the signs of a stroke and when to get emergency attention.

"Our goal is to educate people, so that they can live healthier lives," said Sherry Minton, director of direct response at the American Heart Association, Dallas. "As our slogan says, learn to live."

Online quizzes, about heart disease susceptibility and information on strokes are provided at americanheart.org. Questions for men and women to ask their doctors during office visits are also provided.

The nonprofit placed a "Donate Today" widget on the home page of its site. It links to page for visitors to create a tribute or memorial for a loved one. The widget generated 20 to 30 percent of the nearly $1.2 million made in donations last December. All of the nonprofit's advertising and educational material contains the same unified message.

Despite this integration, more cross-channel marketing can be done according to Ms. Minton.

"The cross-over from direct mail to the Internet is very small," she said. "Only 20 percent of our online donations come from direct mail pieces."

While the association's donors are evenly split between genders, 60 percent of them are over the age of 60. The American Heart Association has shown through testing that the older people get, the more interested they become in heart disease.

"It begins to affect their lives and the lives of people around them," Ms. Minton said.

On of the group's latest initiatives targets individuals immediately effected by the illness. It is an online memorial Web site, where individuals can upload pictures of loved ones affected by heart disease.

"People who create their own sites can send out e-mails to loved ones encouraging them to sign the personalized guest book and write about the person," Ms. Minton said. "It creates individual URLS that can also be listed in newspapers along with the obituary."

In order to ramp up its newly begun tribute site program, the association places inserts into everything that they mail out. It is also in the process of spreading the word to funeral homes and consumers themselves.

The nonprofit mails renewal packages between 10 and 11 times a year, but not to all active recipients. The nonprofit uses several different controls to segment its mailing and determine which individuals receive which renewal packages.

A typical mail piece may be a double remit or one that contains labels, calendars or cards. An end of the year acknowledgement mailing is sent to those who gave during that 12-month period.

"We send to people who have given to the association before, who have called into our call center at 1-800-AHA-USA1 or who have joined other offered programs," Ms. Minton said. "We also have a compiled source list from other nonprofits, publishers and catalogs."

New member acquisition mailings are released six times per year. The nonprofit mails to names from its own list and database.

The nonprofit takes advantage of its large database to acquire plain giving, which has its own marketing committee within the Association. The association has a centralized program that provides all the maintenance and mailing to donors. All donations, however, go back to the local affiliates.

"Twenty-three percent of state fulfillment money came from direct mail donors last year, so we are not only raising money through direct mail, but also through plain giving," Ms. Minton said.

The association has seen substantial success with its neighbor campaign. The nonprofit's net revenue has doubled since it began using strategy four years ago.

"The volunteers use their own names to recruit new donors within their neighborhood," Ms. Minton said. "They are our most dedicated members who also provide the highest gift return."

Today the program consists of 840,000 volunteers who have already established relationships with the nonprofit.

"The cost to raise money in the neighbor campaign is higher, yet we were committed to take a slight loss in income to increase the net worth and since its launch four years ago, it has definitely paid off," Ms. Minton said.

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