WORKSHOP: Case Study - ActionAid Ireland asks for an upgrade

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Background ActionAid Ireland is a development aid charity, set up to help alleviate poverty in developing countries by instigating and supporting projects designed for local communities. The charity provides local partners such as ActionAid Uganda with professional expertise, equipment and funding.

Most of ActionAid Ireland's work in Uganda is funded by child sponsorship programmes. Funds raised through the scheme help provide clean water, education programmes and soil conservation schemes, which directly help the child and its family. Sponsors receive communications from the child, such as a drawing or a letter, and are kept up to date on the work they are supporting through field reports and the charity's magazine ActionLink.

The charity runs several fundraising campaigns each year, using traditional methods like direct mail or newspaper ads. However, over the past three years, the charity has seen diminishing returns from these fundraising channels and needed to find alternative sources of income.

Aims In response to falling income, ActionAid Ireland decided to launch a six-month campaign in October 2002, called 'sponsor a child upgrade', which aimed to find extra cash in response to an urgent appeal from its partner in Uganda to fund an emergency project. The campaign had to raise £35,000, while not exceeding a budget of £7,065.

The charity's primary objective was to encourage its regular child sponsors to upgrade their donations. Receiving advice from marketing agency AMA, it decided to contact donors directly by telephone. This strategy was expected to save both time and money as well as strengthening the relationship between ActionAid Ireland and its donors.

How it worked To kick-start the campaign, AMA launched a telemarketing campaign to 500 existing supporters who already donated between £9 and £16 by direct debit to ask them to increase their monthly donations.

Sponsors were told that by upgrading their donation to £16 or more, they would be giving additional money to the project since Irish charities receive tax relief when a gift exceeds this amount.

It was also decided that sponsors who agreed to upgrade would only receive a confirmation letter rather than receiving a new direct debit form that would need to be signed and returned to the bank.

A direct mail campaign was then addressed to those people who could not be contacted by phone. Each mail pack consisted of a letter explaining the difference a donation could make, a business reply envelope and a 'sponsor get sponsor' card to pass on to family, friends or colleagues wishing to sponsor a child.

ActionAid set itself a series of targets. The charity forecast it would get 250 upgrades from the 1,000 phone calls that would be made, and around 200 from the 2,800 letters that would be sent subsequently. It also expected that half of those who would agree to upgrade would go for the £16 or more option.

Results After the initial campaign proved successful, ActionAid Ireland contacted a further 500 supporters to ask them to increase their donation.

Altogether, ActionAid raised £69,000 from the campaign. Out of those who were contacted by telephone, 536 sponsors upgraded their donation.

Results from the mail pack were also good, with 286 people increasing the amount they gave every month.

"It can be difficult asking supporters to increase their donation, particularly when they are already giving at such a high monthly value, but the response exceeded our wildest expectations," said Niamh Sheeran, fundraising consultant at ActionAid Ireland. "The campaign has enabled us to gauge our donors' support and we now know we have a very committed supporter base."

The success of the campaign was further acknowledged when AMA Charities Services received the Irish direct marketing award for best use of direct marketing in fundraising.

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