In March, the Children's Society re-ran the most successful of three appeals tested against each other in 2004. It was the charity's first direct mail appeal since 2001 - it recruited 10,283 donors and raised £80,000, and was shortlisted for the Best Direct Mail Campaign at the Institute of Fundraising awards in July.
The Children's Society ran the appeal in March, aiming to recruit 10,000 donors in support of the charity's Safe & Sound campaign, which calls on local authorities to make sure they provide safe emergency accommodation and support for runaway children.
It had not run a direct mail appeal for four years. In 2001, the society decided to stop its direct mail activities and focus on face-to-face fundraising in response to falling direct mail response rates.
The society estimates that 100,000 children under 16 run away from home or care in the UK each year and are at risk on the streets. About 25 per cent of them are 11 or younger and one in four sleeps rough.
How it worked
DMS devised three packs, which were tested against one another. The first one went out in July 2004 to 26,000 individuals from lists bought from other agencies. It was called the 'sweeties pack' because it contained a lemon bonbon, and it emphasised the risks of taking sweets from strangers.
It was tested against a personalised and hard-hitting pack that contained a letter saying: "Where would you sleep rough tonight?" This pack, which was sent to 60,000 people, turned out to be more successful than the first one.
A third pack, which was sent to 50,000 individuals, contained a toothbrush and said "No time to pack when you are fleeing from abuse". The 'toothbrush pack', which was the most successful, was re-sent in March this year to 196,000 individuals selected from the most responsive of the lists used during the test campaign.
Nicholas Breakspeare, a spokesman for the Children's Society, said: "The campaign was not a doormat gimmick, but a real, tangible part of our work that brings street survival direct to runaway children."
The appeal generated 10,283 responses and raised £80,000. Return on investment was higher than expected: the charity expected to get 50p for every pound spent on the campaign, but raised 79p for each pound instead. The Children's Society was shortlisted for Best Direct Mail campaign at the Institute of Fundraising awards, but was pipped at the post by the NSPCC Chloe upgrade pack. "Sadly, we did not win, but our campaign was very highly regarded," said Breakspeare.
EXPERT VIEW - IAN ATKINSON, HEAD OF COPY, ENTIRE
Let's create a successful fundraising pack. We'll start the best way, with a single, simple and specific thought - in this case, children who run away from home to escape abuse.
Let's put ourselves in their small shoes. What might it feel like to flee home and leave everything and everyone you know? If we can communicate those facts and feelings, our audience may feel compelled to help out.
So we'll generate thoughts to do with being lonely, frightened, cold and hungry. We'll get all 'Maslow's hierarchy of needs' and decide the most basic - food, shelter - will be the most powerful.
Perhaps we can illustrate this by showing a hurried packed lunch made by a child. Or perhaps it's the basics they don't take: a toothbrush would be among the many things they forget.
Excellent, we have a gimmick - or involvement device, as we'd prefer to call it. Shame it's not more colourful.
We'll also include the techniques that can raise response, though in the process perhaps we lose some of our earlier verve and get a bit tired-looking.
And maybe we didn't need indented paras, italics, bold, bullet points, underlining and a PS all in one letter.
But the concept helps the charity develop a 'Big Bag' they give children who've run away. That's the sort of clear, tangible thought people like giving to.
And so it proves - the pack pulls like a train.