Focus: Fundraising - Case study - Unicef's ten years of oral rehydration

Georgina Lock

Unicef has been using its oral rehydration therapy direct mail pack as a tool to recruit new donors for ten years. The pack has been tweaked throughout that time, eventually evolving into a control mailing.


Unicef developed the mail pack to highlight the importance of cheap rehydration therapy in saving the lives of children in the developing world.

The pack includes a mock empty sachet of oral rehydration salts - a real version would contain a mixture of salt and sugar that, when mixed with water, helps children recover from severe dehydration.


The very first pack was developed by the Chapter One agency ten years ago. More recently, a pack sent out in October included a pocket diary to act as a reminder of how the organisation spends donors' money throughout the year.

In 2005, the pack was mailed to more than two million potential supporters with an envelope picturing Amos, a Tanzanian baby, and the words: "Inside... the 3p sachet that saved Amos' life."

The pack contained the sachet and a flyer explaining how Amos had been suffering from acute dehydration before he was saved by rehydration therapy.

A freepost envelope and a letter from David Bull, executive director at Unicef UK, was also included. It said that 3p is enough to buy a sachet that can help to save a child's life. Bull added that supporters' money was needed to train health workers and teach parents about the importance of oral rehydration. The letter asked for £2 a month.


During 2005, when the pack was sent to a further two million people, the income generated through a mixture of direct debit and cash donations was about £300,000.

The charity said the pocket diary, which has not always been included in the pack, helped raise the response.

Vicky Seale, direct marketing manager at Unicef UK, said: "The oral rehydration pack has been and continues to be an incredibly successful direct marketing tool for us. As well as having a focused message, it ensures that donors get a real sense of what their generous donations are supplying in the field."


This is the grand-daddy of direct mail fundraising packs. Conceived in the middle of the last decade of the last century, this sprightly 10-year-old still managed to shake its collection tin hard enough to bring in more than £300,000 in 2005. It's even outlived the agency that originally created it.

So why is this venerable control pack so successful? Partly, I suspect, because it is highlighting Unicef's impeccable credentials and noble cause. But it is competing against a growing multitude of equally worthy children's charities for the attention of increasingly sceptical donors. There must be more to the story.

What really helps here is the clarity of the issue and the simplicity of the solution. A Unicef Oral Rehydration Sachet, costing just 3p, can save a child from dying of dehydration. With many charities, the issue is so big and complex that it's difficult to understand how your donation is going to make a difference. The brilliance of this pack is that it describes the issue clearly and emotively - and offers a complete and immediate solution for only 3p. Basically, it ticks all the boxes for philanthropy.

Honed internally by Unicef for a decade, the mailshot has become a powerful control pack.

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