Workshop: Case study - Cats Protection tackles 'kitten crisis'

Francois Le Goff

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Background: Cats Protection provides new homes for around 60,000 cats every year through a network of 30 shelters and 260 branches across the UK, the latter being entirely run by volunteers.

In February, the charity raised concerns about a rise in the cat population as the warm season approached, because spring and summer are the busiest reproductive periods. The tens of thousands of kittens that were born during summer 2003 - which effectively lasted until early October due to particularly good weather conditions - were about to become sexually mature and the charity felt it was vital that their owners had them neutered.

Cats Protection is committed to a non-euthanasia policy and promotes relatively low-cost neutering schemes instead.

It was estimated that up to 30,000 unwanted kittens could flood the charity's centres from April, bringing an already overstretched rescuing and care service to near-bursting point.

The appeal that Cats Protection launched in 2003 to prepare for this 'kitten crisis' raised more than £150,000, the success of which encouraged them to repeat the campaign this year.

Aims: The objective of the 2004 appeal was to raise awareness of the impending crisis, as each female cat is able to have up to 16 kittens in a year.

Cats Protection planned to raise around £210,000, with Gift Aid on top, to look after these abandoned kittens.

How it worked: A direct mail pack was mailed in February to Cats Protection's full database of 116,760 members and supporters, followed by a reminder mailout four weeks later. Developed in collaboration with advertising agency TDA, the mail pack comprised a letter with a donation form, a four-page leaflet and a postage-paid response envelope. The charity chose to print a colour picture of a cat on a large-format envelope to appeal to the target audience at first glance.

The leaflet's front page featured a female cat with the line: "A female cat can have two litters in one year". It then unfolded into an A2 poster with the headline: "the 'huge kitten problem' unfolding", revealing the scale of the kitten crisis and the urgent need to take action to prevent it.

"The general perception is that the problem of unwanted pets is most acute at Christmas, as campaigns from charities such as Dogs Trust tend to show," said Sarah Don-Bramah, account director at TDA. "This appeal emphasised the fact that spring and early summer are the seasons when Cats Protection face their biggest challenge."

The accompanying letter presented the case for giving, including key facts about the cost of caring for kittens and neutering operations.

Results: The appeal raised £278,976 - 33 per cent above target. This has been Cats Protection's most successful campaign to date, beating last year's Christmas appeal, which raised £250,000.

Although they contributed larger sums, donors who gave on a one-off basis have been less responsive to both the main appeal and reminder than regular donors.

The response rate from the charity's past donors was high. "We were delighted with the response of those who might be considered lapsed or lapsing," said Don-Bramah. "Cash donors who hadn't given to any appeal for more than three years responded at 3.1 per cent to the main appeal, and those with active direct debits but who had not given an additional cash donation for three years generated a response rate of 13.8 per cent."

Emma Osbourne, media and PR officer at Cats Protection, said: "We are thrilled with the campaign's success. It will enable us to provide enough food, vet care and vaccinations for kittens over the summer."

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