Focus: Fundraising - Case study - Red Cross says thank you by 'Vismail'

Nathalie Thomas,


Just over two weeks after the tsunami hit south-east Asia on Boxing Day last year, the British Red Cross sent a thank-you 'Vismail' to people who had made one-off donations.

The email contained a request for regular contributions to the charity's work. This resulted in more than 100 regular gift pledges, worth more than £12,000 a year to the charity.


Vismail is a new form of fundraising media. It is a combined email and video message, which potential donors can view without having to make any downloads or navigate to other websites. According to its creator, Fundraising Initiatives, Vismail clears most firewalls - security systems - and charities can track how many people received and viewed the video message contained in it.

The exact formula of the Vismail is left to the charities themselves.

In the case of the British Red Cross, it was decided that the video would contain no fundraising message, but an option to make regular donations was added.

The Vismail was sent out to 55,000 one-off donors on 11 January, 16 days after the tsunami. Because the email was primarily intended as a thank-you message, it went to both 'opt-in' and 'opt-out' donors, regardless of whether they specified that they would like to receive further information from the charity or not.

How it worked

The 55,000 Vismails were sent out instantly, on 11 January. David Alexander, international director at the British Red Cross, offered a personal thank you in the video, which showed scenes of aid being loaded onto a plane and then distributed in the affected countries.

"I've been international director for more than six years, but never have I witnessed a disaster on this scale," he said.

The charity also decided to offer donors an idea of what their money was being used for, by including details of the aid that had been sent so far.

"Already, the British Red Cross has been able to send 12 planeloads of relief items to the stricken area, carrying things such as blankets, kitchen sets, drinking water and plastic sheeting for temporary shelter," Alexander said.

Although the video itself didn't contain any fundraising pleas, a central button was featured alongside the video screen offering recipients the chance to make a regular gift. Two other buttons were also included - one that sent visitors to the British Red Cross website, and another that enabled them to forward the Vismail to a friend.


The Vismail resulted in more than 100 regular donations and extra income worth £12,000 a year to the charity. Almost 92 per cent (50,460) of the Vismails were successfully delivered, and the view rate was 123 per cent - meaning it was viewed by more people than it was initially sent to.


The south-east Asian tsunami struck on Boxing Day last year. Within a matter of weeks, the British Red Cross hadn't just mobilised its aid workers - it had also sent a thank you 'Vismail' to people who had made one-off donations to help make its work possible.

Creatively, this piece won't trouble the juries, but that's not really the point. If you think back to the events of the time, it took a while for the scale of the catastrophe to become apparent.

Full marks must go to the British Red Cross and its agencies for reacting so quickly.

The task seemed too immense to comprehend - we were all paralysed by the enormity of the disaster. Yet here in your inbox is footage showing the British Red Cross already in the thick of it, delivering relief to those who need it most - confirmation that your donation is hard at work, making a difference. This is perhaps the greatest incentive to think about contributing in the future.

It is a very functional, practical piece, carrying little emotional resonance.

When I think back to those shots of the starving in Ethiopia with The Cars' Who's Going To Drive You Home? as the soundtrack, I still feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

A new pledge rate of 0.2 per cent suggests this piece didn't quite inspire reactions of the same Geldofian proportions.

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