First Outbound E-Mail Campaign No Disaster for Red Cross

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The American Red Cross, Washington, for the first time is using e-mail in an outbound campaign to solicit online donations.

The relief organization chose Huntsinger & Jeffer, Richmond, VA, to handle the permission e-marketing program, which is designed to build personal relationships with donors, increase chapter support and increase contributions for Red Cross programs nationwide.

The e-mail campaign, which the Red Cross began in late November, is in the pilot stage and will be tested for a year, according to Mary Kay Phelps, senior director of direct marketing. The first mailing went out to 7,500 previous donors, she said.

Phelps said previous donors were sent an e-mail on Nov. 27 asking if they would be receptive to contributing to the organization online.

"We focused on a cultivation piece," she said. "We wanted to see how donors would react to it."

Phelps said the first e-mail included a newsletter that focused on holiday safety tips, with a layout that was simple and unobtrusive.

"It really was meant to be a thank you for their past donations," Phelps said.

The e-mail contains a link to the Red Cross' Donate Now page on its Web site, at The page enables donors to specify whether they want to contribute to the national organization, a local chapter or specific relief campaigns.

The campaign could not have been timed better, as donations to charitable organizations have been declining in recent years.

Olivia Smith, Huntsinger & Jeffer's account director for the Red Cross campaign, said a number of messages are planned for delivery throughout the year. But while the initial phase of the campaign seems to have gone smoothly, she said there are some roadblocks.

One of the problems, Smith said, is that the names have been cultivated from the Red Cross' database of more than 12 million. Most of the names used in the pilot program were culled from donors contributing to disasters that took place last year.

"One of the big questions with a campaign like this is that there is a huge time decay to the names," she said. "How many of these names are still good?"

Smith also said she expects the campaign to reach a different audience than the one that traditionally contributes to the Red Cross.

"The traditional donors tend to be older," she said. "Online users tend to be younger. Our job is to figure out if we'll get a wholly new set of people or existing donors."

Phelps said the Red Cross is using technology from MessageMedia as the e-mail engine and is outsourcing some of the technology involved to other companies.

"We're not sure exactly who will take advantage of this method," Phelps said. "We're being very careful before we sign up any new donors."

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