Merkle's response group chosen by Catholic humanitarian organization

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Nonprofit humanitarian agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working with Merkle's Response Management Group on database and fulfillment services for its Operation Rice Bowl program.

The effort takes place during Lent, which occurs prior to Easter in the spring, and encourages Catholic families, parishes and schools to prepare meatless meals and then contribute the money they would have spent on a larger meal into cardboard rice bowls. At the end of Lent, the money is collected and used to fight hunger around the globe.

Beth Martin, senior program officer for Operation Rice Bowl, said the campaign is being promoted mostly through direct mail to churches and other Catholic organizations. The direct mail piece drives recipients to either a microsite, http://orb.crs.org/, or a call center, where they can place orders for campaign materials. Those materials can also be requested by mail.

The direct mail pieces are dropped three times a year. Martin explained: “First in October to get the word out, then just after the New Year in January to get last minute interest and finally in May, to join other programs the following year.”

Participants in the program can also make donations online through the microsite. At the time of donation, users can opt-in to receive a monthly e-newsletter from CRS.

Martin said the microsite is being promoted through paid search keywords.

“The group's role is to capture leads into our order management system and to send out program materials and collateral to the parishes, schools and other local organizations that distribute the bowls to its members,” said Steven Gregg, senior director of business development for the Response Management Group.

Merkle, hired in May, is collecting and holding the orders until January, when it will begin to send out the more-than-4.2 million cardboard bowls. All of the bowls must be sent by the beginning of Lent, which occurs on February 17.

In addition to Operation Rice Bowl, Response Management Group is also supporting CRS' other programs, including Food Fast, Fair Trade and Global Fellows. The agency will also provide reporting for each program through a Web portal, which CRS can also use to update orders in the fulfillment system.

Once donations are made, 75% of the funds go to CRS, while 25% stay in the local Catholic dioceses to fight poverty on a local level.

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