In 2004, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help started a series of appeals to renew its ageing donor base. Results from its autumn appeal revealed that it would be more cost-effective to recruit donors using responder lists (people who have responded to marketing before) than profiled lists (people who correspond to the charity's typical donor profile).
When Lorna Robertson-Reed joined SSAFA Forces Help as donations and direct mail manager in March 2004, she identified an urgent need to attract a new generation of donors. A survey she commissioned last July revealed that 60 per cent of the charity's donors were male, retired and read broadsheets.
Previous appeals showed that most of the 22,000 individuals on the charity's warm database had stopped making donations. The direct mail appeal launched by Robertson-Reed in the autumn was the first of a series designed to test different ways of recruiting donors while seeking to reactivate warm ones.
Robertson-Reed said the profiled and responder lists that had been used by the charity in the past had failed to boost its cold mailing response rate, which had stagnated at about 0.3 per cent.
How it worked
The appeal comprised two mailings - one warm and one cold. The warm mailing contained a letter from SSAFA Forces Help chief executive Major General Andrew Cumming.
The cold mailing featured the story of an ex-serviceman who had served in the Gulf War, which aimed to appeal to a wider audience and move away from the traditional elderly ex-services client. It was sent to 224,000 individuals, of which 45,000 were tested with a colour postcard showing how a £25 gift could be spent. All were identified through a new mixture of profiled and responder lists.
The warm appeal raised £73,439 and had a response rate of 14.2 per cent, while the cold appeal raised £35,059 and had a response rate of 0.54 per cent. The warm mailing response met the charity's £25 average gift target.
Robertson-Reed said although the cold mailing's response rate was high overall, it was deceptive because the average was driven up by a small sample of people targeted through a list that focused on hot spots such as barracks. She said that once this figure was discounted the average response rate fell to 0.3 per cent - no real improvement on previous figures.
The cold mailing test revealed that the response was twice as high among those who received the postcard. Other results showed that the highest responses came from people over 65 rather than those aged between 40 and 64, regardless of list type. "We need to look at the creative as, despite targeting more carefully, we still do not seem to be engaging with a wider audience," said Robertson-Reed.
Neil Henderson, creative planner, DMS
Military 'intelligence' must give way to emotional intelligence.
In 1885, Major James Gildea sent SSAFA's first fundraising letter to just one recipient - The Times - which duly published the appeal seeking funds for the families of soldiers off to Egypt. The 'Instructions from the Major' approach may have worked back then but, 120 years later, it does not.
The SSAFA's fundraising needs a new plan of attack - one led by emotional intelligence rather than blustering after-dinner speeches.
It must not assume that people give a fig about service personnel, ex-service people or their families. Instead, it should spoon-feed heart-rending stories to prospects and awaken their generosity. Show them what you've got and they'll show you their money.
I believe the SSAFA is sitting on a gold mine, and just needs to learn how to dig. The public loves stories of bravery and courage, of sadness and destitution. The SSAFA has access to such tales, but chooses to keep them, well, top secret. Other forces' charities target this territory and reap handsome incomes.
The SSAFA has a wonderful range of services, and its work is soulful and touching. It would help to stop delivering military-style speeches and change its communication style to let donors experience what it actually does.
Then donors will be only too pleased to support the cause.