Fundraising: Case study - ActionAid tests out first themed mail

Francois Le Goff


Stolen Childhoods, ActionAid's first campaign on a general theme, has raised £230,000 so far. This new approach, to be developed further in 2005, will allow the overseas aid charity to raise funds that are not restricted to single projects.


The direct mail pack ActionAid sent to regular donors in September focused on the millions of children in developing countries who are robbed of their childhoods because of wars, natural disasters, diseases and illegal trade. It was the charity's first theme-based fundraising appeal; previous campaigns focused on projects.

The appeal was sent to 4,000 'middle' donors, people who generally give £15 a month by direct debit and from £170 to £3,500 a year in response to ad hoc appeals. Each of them receives about three direct mail packs a year; the last one, in July, was about a project in Malawi.

ActionAid press officer Jane Moyo explained that although many of these donors already support individual children, the charity wanted to launch a general appeal to help those who fall outside such schemes because their lives are too unpredictable to be tracked .

How it worked

The pack contained a letter, a donation form, a personal file on Daniel, a child from Mozambique whose mother died from Aids, and a report telling real-life stories and stressing the need for money to be raised by means other than sponsorship.

The letter described the living conditions of Daniel and of Josepha, a Rwandan girl who became responsible for her four brothers and sisters at the age of 10. It asked recipients to make a bigger donation than usual.

Imelda McGuigan, joint head of individuals marketing at ActionAid, said the initiative was intended to "move people up the scale" in their category. Donors were divided into five bands and asked for donations ranging from £170 to £3,500. A similar pack with a higher ask was sent to 800 major donors in December.


Stolen Childhoods exceeded the target of £150,000, raising £230,000 so far. The response rate was 18 per cent; the average rate for a traditional project-based campaign is 15-20 per cent.

ActionAid had a lot of positive feedback from donors, and the highest single donation was £50,000, the largest ever received from middle donors.

"In terms of annual income from our middle donors, it is by far the most successful year we have ever had," said McGuigan. "We are now looking at ways to develop more theme-based campaigns, because this approach would give us much more flexibility."

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