E-mails harvest 1 million holiday meals

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Hunger-relief organization America's Second Harvest-The Nation's Food Bank Network teamed with Merkle | Domain to raise $103,000 this holiday season.

The campaign illustrates the trend of nonprofits linking with outside marketing organizations.

"Our goal was to help raise funds online and to raise awareness of our program," said Deidre McMahon, manager of direct marketing for America's Second Harvest, Chicago. "We wanted to provide a reminder during Thanksgiving that many people give, and we were able to turn that into hunger relief."

The online, e-mail and mail campaign raised funds to provide 1 million meals over the holidays.

Merkle | Domain, Seattle, the nonprofit unit of database marketing firm Merkle, worked with America's Second Harvest along with Convio, a provider of online constituent relationship management solutions for nonprofits, to develop the "Thanksgiving Feast for One Million."

America's Second Harvest sent direct mail to previous donors introducing the feast, then followed up online. The group displayed a special banner and landing page on its site and distributed a series of three e-mail appeals that asked previous donors and subscribers to make a donation.

"At the cost of $1 to provide 16 meals, the total revenue goal was $62,500," said Kathryn Conway, marketing and public relations specialist for Merkle | Domain. "The campaign exceeded this goal by ... enough to provide 1,652,640 meals."

Compared with the 2005 Thanksgiving direct mail fundraising effort, the online campaign results improved 500 percent.

The first e-mail appeal went in mid-November, targeting the nonprofit's opt-in e-mail list of previous donors and subscribers. From Nov. 16 to 20, America's Second Harvest raised $33,000 from that appeal.

The second e-mail went Nov. 21 to donors who did not respond to the first one. It updated recipients on the campaign's progress and introduced its corporate match with Tyson, which provided a $50,000 grant toward the campaign.

"We have had Thanksgiving campaigns in the past, but this is the first year that we produced one with a very specific number goal," Ms. McMahon said. "I think that definitely helped."

The second appeal also included the "tell a friend" feature and raised more than $56,000. A third e-mail sent Nov. 30 as a thank you to those who had donated contained a summary of results. It drew nearly $14,000 in donations.

America's Second Harvest comprises 200 member food banks and food-rescue organizations nationwide. According to its Web site, the nonprofit distributes nearly 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products yearly. The typical supporter is a woman in her late 50s or older. Analysis is being done to see whether that holds true online as well.

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