Puzzle fits fundraising plans for hospital

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The San Antonio Hospital Foundation of Upland, CA, is asking donors to help solve the puzzle of how to ease congestion in the emergency room.

The nonprofit has used a puzzle in two recent fundraising mailers to help acquire nearly $120,000 in donations - more than five times the cost of the mailing. Recipients complete and mail back the puzzle along with a donation, a tactic that raised average gift totals.

"I was thinking of the domino effect in order to get something built," said Christie Rose, manager of annual giving and special events for the hospital foundation. "The thought of mastering a puzzle appeals to people, and, in turn, they become part of the larger building puzzle."

Two puzzle mailings were sent last year. The success of the late July mailing prompted the nonprofit to continue the effort with its November mailing. Each mailing went to 5,000 recipients who were non-donors and labeled as cold by the foundation. Only direct mail was used.

"We bought the list through a printing and media house," Ms. Rose said. "We focused on limited criteria, especially ZIP code and income."

The polybagged, unassembled puzzle was inserted into the envelope to give the mailer a lumpy feel, prompting more people to open it. A one-page letter accompanied it.

The foundation's goal was to raise enough money, along with other grants, to build a new emergency department and patient tower to lessen the wait for a room and treatment in the department.

The new building will sit adjacent to the main hospital and increase the current 18-bed ER to a 52-bed emergency department with three separate areas for emergency care, urgent care and non-emergent care. The three floors above the new department will provide 102 private rooms with telemetry capability.

"The biggest challenge was getting approval from the foundation board to raise the needed money," Ms. Rose said. "There was no guarantee, especially with the cold list we were mailing to."

The foundation typically mails 5,000 to 15,000 mailers and raises $4,000 to $8,000 per mailing, despite a usual cost of around $10,000.

The puzzle mailers cost more than $20,000 to produce, but raised more than $120,000. This sum is more than double what the hospital normally generates from direct mail in an entire year. Though response rates were in line with the foundation's usual mailers, Ms. Rose said, the average gift was much higher.

Positive Response, Dublin, OH, provided additional marketing and promotions for the mailing.

"If you come up with something that really captures people's attention, it is worth it," Ms. Rose said. "It is worth taking the risk."

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