Red Cross Makes First Attempt at National Fundraising Campaign

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Fierce competition for donor dollars has spurred the American Red Cross to spearhead a 12-month pilot program that will determine whether national direct mail programs are more lucrative than its traditional local chapter efforts.

The Red Cross's 1,300 chapters each conduct six to eight direct-mail campaigns throughout the year. Those local campaigns and other fundraising efforts reeled in $500 million last year.

But bigger just might mean better, according to Mary Kay Phelps, director of direct marketing at the Falls Church, VA-based headquarters of the Red Cross.

"It's the first time that the national headquarters has served as a collaborating force between chapters. We can do more testing, we can get better results and we can get better prices," she said. "Despite the fact that we have 1,300 chapters, our donors look to us as one Red Cross, so we are attempting to honor the way that our customers look at us."

The Red Cross intended to begin with a small pilot test, but 350 of its chapters -- many more than anticipated -- asked to participate. The organization expanded the test to include 150 chapters, which were chosen based on size and location.

"We wanted to create a statistically valid pilot, where we could take the results and apply it across the board," Phelps said, "so we looked for chapters of varying size and in urban, suburban and rural areas."

The first phase of the pilot launched in March and reached 1.3 million prospective donors, whose names were culled from the lists of similar charitable organizations. Donor names and dollars will be passed along to the respective local chapters, which are expected to resolicit the donors in the future.

The Red Cross mailed three different mail pieces, created by Hunsinger and Jeffer, an ad agency in Richmond, VA.

One envelope is labeled "Priority Express" and contains a response envelope with copy reading "Help Can't Wait" and "Urgent! Please Hurry." A letter from the chapter chairman reads: "I urge you to make sure that your local Red Cross chapter is prepared to meet the emergency needs of your community."

Another envelope, reading "True Stories of the American Red Cross in Action ... Inside!," offers the recipient a card detailing how to give CPR. The inside outlines Red Cross efforts in California, Kentucky, Tennessee and Colorado. A letter from Elizabeth Dole, president of the American Red Cross, reads: "No matter when or where disaster strikes, the Red Cross pledges to be there, but we urgently need your help to make this possible."

The final envelope reads "Tomorrow Morning Brings Another Disastrous Day" on one side and "A Free Gift From Your Local Red Cross Chapter" on the other. The gift is a packet of personalized address labels. The inside of the envelope lists such Red Cross programs as disaster relief, blood services and health and safety courses. A letter from the chapter chairman tells the story of Leslie Butler, who turned to his local Red Cross chapter after he lost his home and a close neighbor to a deadly fire.

Phelps hopes to acquire 25,000 new donors and said she is well on her way to reaching that goal. She has yet to tally all the figures to determine which mail piece performed the best. The next step of the campaign is slated for November and will include more chapters and more prospects. One more direct mail campaign will follow and complete the pilot.

The Red Cross also is looking into performing a national telemarketing campaign on behalf of its local chapters and has just released a request for proposal for telemarketing agencies.

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