Behind the Design: A Case Study

Background

Here at Frontier, we strive to develop fundraising research that always pushes the industry to improve, which in turn helps charities have a greater impact in the world. This means that our marketing decisions are grounded in research and testing in order to produce the best results for our clients and continue shaping industry best practices. 

To understand how we could improve our direct mail appeals for our clients, we commissioned Predictive Eye Tracking reports one of our mailer designs.

Predictive eye tracking is a software model based on decades of neuroscientific research that predicts where on the page readers’ eyes are drawn in the first 3-5 seconds of reading. This enables designers to place key information in spots where it will have the most impact. These tests produce a heat map image of the results, along with statistics relating to page complexity and noticeability.

  • The page complexity score measures how much visual clutter is present on the image.

  • The noticeability metric produces a list of the top elements on the page that will be noticed within the first 3-5 seconds.

  • Finally, the heat map indicates areas of highest focus with red spots.

Until recently, the technology to produce these reports was only available for digital mediums, so the newfound ability to test our print campaigns is very exciting.

The Opportunity

During our first interaction with predictive eye tracking reports for our print campaigns, we learned that user engagement was low on the back page of our direct mail appeal. After analysing the report, we hypothesized that the large volume of uninterrupted body copy on the back page may be the main culprit that was losing donors’ attention. This provided us with an opportunity to optimize this space to emphasize the client’s message. But how?

The Fix

This discovery was a call to immediate action for our team! We got creative with the next direct mail appeal we sent out. This currently under-utilized space had the potential to leave a large impact on current and prospective donors; our challenge was to utilize it in such a way that it added value for the client. So, our team developed the idea of creating impact statistic graphics to insert on the back page.

Not only would this give the eye a place to land by breaking up the text, but it would also provide a space to further emphasize important points to the donor.  Most importantly, it would allow a donor to visualize how they can be the hero in the story, all within the first 3-5 seconds of flipping over the appeal letter. Impact statistics offer tangible and visual metrics that are quick to digest, all while emphasizing the impact donors can have on real lives. 

However, at Frontier we are not satisfied with assuming we’ve solved the problem; we test to ensure it’s solved. So we ordered another predictive report, this time on our new design. The results came back overwhelmingly positive: the back page received a focus rate score of 93.7%, which indicates highly focused attention. Additionally, the new impact statistic graphic was the top focus item on the heat map. Essentially, the new infographic stole the show, dramatically  increasing overall donor engagement with the page.

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Applied Results

Not only did the Predictive Eye Tracking test results prove that this was a worthwhile change, but the real life results we have seen from our clients also verify this.

The success of this design means that now we have another strategy for effectively communicating clients’ messages to potential donors. Since confirming our theory with the predictive eye tracking test and seeing our clients’ real-life fundraising results, we have gone on to integrate this design into many of the mailers we create for our clients.

But we haven’t just inserted basic impact statistic graphics into all our mailers. We have taken the principles of these solutions and tailored them to each of our client’s individual needs, based on who they are as an organization and even when in the year the campaign launches. This design has contributed to the success of numerous mailers, and is particularly applicable for campaigns with tangible asks.

By sharing this type of research publicly, Frontier continues developing our industry’s understanding of effective fundraising practices. For example, our general manager, Mariam Ghani, presented these findings at the 2017 Pursuit conference in Edmonton, AB so that other fundraisers could gain from our research.

“It was a privilege presenting to other non-profits to share that direct mail fundraising continues to be an effective tool, and even more so now when we have the technology to optimize it further.” - Mariam Ghani, General Manager, Frontier

Through research like these tests, our goal is to help shape industry best practices so that organizations like our clients and can raise support more effectively than ever before.

Calgary Dream Centre Case Study: One Year with Frontier

History

As the Calgary Dream Centre faced the end of 2014, they had high hopes for the upcoming year—the year signifying their 10th anniversary of influencing transformations in their community. They were working tirelessly. With their efforts focused on helping those most vulnerable in the city, their fundraising had taken the shape of an event-based fundraising program with only rare mailings to donors.

As soon as we began to study their fundraising practices, we saw numerous ways that we could help. So we set about to make their 10th anniversary a critical juncture—a year of unprecedented and sustainable growth.

Introducing Frontier

In the autumn of 2014, the Calgary Dream Centre was seeking to partner with a fundraising agency to help them grow beyond their current fundraising standard and double if not triple their revenue over the course of several years. After deliberating with peers in the mission world, they chose Frontier.

In establishing a partnership, we focused on building trust and relationship—getting to know the members of the Dream Centre personally. Because they view us as an extension of their fundraising team—not simply an external service provider—we are able to soak in the knowledge and culture of the Dream Centre as an organization and develop a deeper understanding of their needs.

We immediately started building a new website and hustled to launch it in December 2014. We also created an annual print and email calendar, and began acquisition campaigns right away.

Because of our personal approach, and getting to know the Calgary Dream Centre even before our official contract, we were able to get to work within weeks of our initial contact, seeking new strategies and improvement right away.

Game Plan

The first improvement we made to the Calgary Dream Centre’s fundraising strategy was a total overhaul of their website. We redesigned every attribute to clarify the focus, creating the entire website around a single call to action: Donate. We also streamlined the online donation experience using our best practices, as explained on our blog. By de-emphasizing third party events, we highlighted the importance of one-time gifts. Instead of being overwhelmed by options, donors were simply being asked to do one thing, so many of them did it!

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Over the next 12 months, we grew the Dream Centre’s direct mail campaign to include 7 appeals, 5 acquisition campaigns and 4 newsletters. This increased communication resulted in the addition of 194 new donors since October 2014, which is 150% growth over the previous year.  

The Newsletter itself—which we named “Transformations”—was our own creation. Through the release of quarterly issues, a signature piece has emerged with a focus on sharing information and cultivating relationships with the donors. It provides organizational accountability to these supporters—showing them where their dollars are going—and keeps them informed and engaged. Did you know that donors are known to give up to three times more to charities that show the problem being solved and where their dollars will go?  

Lastly, we gave some time to brand unification. By equipping the Dream Centre with important tools such as a professional, unique and recognizable brand that maintains consistency across all of their “products,” we enabled them to compete in the big leagues and grow their donor base.

Results

Site redesign alone grew online revenue by 66%. We helped them rustle up $161,891 through their website, which is currently 13% of their gross revenue total. Further, the introduction of Transformations and its emphasis on donor care and communications provoked a 17.4% reduction of donor attrition. In fact, 322 donors have returned after not giving for more than two years. That’s roughly equal to their total acquisition of the last three years combined!

Since December 2014, we’ve seen ongoing, visible growth. In fact, the Dream Centre has seen the largest gross donation revenue increase in their history: $1,220,137, an increase of $344,000. In total, they received gifts from 1605 donors, which is a 105% increase.

The Calgary Dream Centre is a charity whose heart for the community eclipsed their capacity to focus on strategic fundraising. Now, with enhanced donor care tools, they’ve been able to build a stronger foundation of trust and loyalty with their donors and raise more revenue. And there’s more in store!

We look forward to a continued partnership with the Calgary Dream Centre in 2016. We plan to establish a branded monthly donor program to further steward existing donors, as well as develop an Easter Direct Mail and Acquisition campaign. On the digital frontier, we’ll be exploring third party event fundraising together. We fully expect good to become better—than best—as we apply more of our fundraising best practices, moving forward!

Union Gospel Mission: Camp Direct Mail Case Study

History

At Frontier, many of our staff remember life-changing experiences from their times at camp. These memories have simmered over the years and become richer as we witness more and more lives changed by Union Gospel Mission sending children in need to camps. It’s been on our hearts to help make a bigger impact for camps for years and, as you’ll read in this case study, we think we’ve done just that.

The Campaign

Working together with UGM’s annual giving team, we crafted a direct mail package that was beautiful and heart-warming, packed full of fundraising excellence. Camp direct mail was already familiar to UGM and their donors, so our team’s leading mandate was to optimize. Our primary goal was to increase net revenue, with a secondary goal of improving the consistency of UGM’s communication across mediums (such as the Gratitude newsletter and digital materials).

Here’s a visual of that fun and engaging campaign.

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Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 4.01.53 PM

The ask strategy around camp and the generous matching offer remained the same but to increase effectiveness, we honed the detail. We significantly tweaked the reply form, adjusted the cover to reflect the actual demographics of the kids UGM sends to camp and tailored the copy to UGM and their donors. Finally, this was the first time UGM had a truly integrated multi-channel camp campaign.

Results

It was the best year on record. The quantity mailed was nearly 6,000 less than the previous year while revenue went up 19.4%. That’s up by nearly $32,000! What drove this change? Both average gift and response rate improved dramatically. The average gift increased 22% and response rate increased over 19%.

Among camp appeals from 2010-2015, this ranks as the best overall campaign, with the highest response rate and largest average gift.

But, our goal wasn’t just revenue. It was net revenue. Working more efficiently, the cost per thousand (CPM) for this appeal decreased 27%, a drop of $405 per thousand. That’s a savings of over $10,000.

The net difference: over $45,000 more net revenue to send to impact lives than either 2013 or 2014.

Summary

Our belief is that content is king. Your fundraising writing is by far the most important revenue driver. Using better data segmentation generally leads to more tailored content, while asking donors for the right amount and using appropriate language with them. Visually, we believe you should be the best you you can be for a given medium.

Don’t engage in a race to the bottom. Drive value to your donors and dignity to the people you serve. The result is a winning combination.

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A Match Made in Heaven: Frontier and Bridgeway quadruple $60k for poverty relief

History

In late April of 2014, our leadership team met with Mark Petersen, Executive Director of Bridgeway Foundation, at their downtown Toronto office. Over hours of conversation, we shared our concerns, thoughts and hopes about digital fundraising in Canada. On the plane ride home to British Columbia, we envisioned a plan that would motivate charities to become more innovative online.

In the following months, our team secured a grant to study fundraising best practices, examining a 55 point checklist for each of 92 member organizations listed by the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. Months of research, micro-donations and writing later, we had a report in our hands. This report can be downloaded at digitalcharity.ca.

To connect the study with tangible results, the capstone of the project was to lead six charities through a best-practice matching campaign. Each charity served the area of urban poverty relief, but were different sizes and in different cities.

The Match

Bridgeway Foundation is a private family foundation that supports non-profit organizations through financial grants and partnerships. They stimulate innovation within the social sector and strengthen organizations’ capacities to serve. Working in tandem with their generosity, we devised a plan to organize and execute six pro-bono match campaigns for $10,000 each, for a total of $60,000 in matching funds.

Eligible charities were encouraged to apply for Bridgeway’s grant by submitting an application that highlighted a project in need of funds. Once selected they were informed, and Bridgeway gave us notice of winners to begin our summer partnership.

Over the summer of 2015, the Frontier team performed pro-bono fundraising campaigns for the following charities:

Siloam Mission, Winnipeg, Large List, June 23 to July 2 Regeneration Outreach Community, Brampton, Small List, June 25 to July 14 Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, Halifax, Small List, July 1 to July 20 Hope Mission, Edmonton, Medium List, July 14 to July 23 Welcome Hall Mission, Montreal, Small List, July 7 to July 16 Yonge Street Mission, Toronto, Large List, August 11 to August 20

None of these six charities had sent out similar campaigns to their email list in at least the previous twelve months.

The Campaigns

We needed to keep things simple for two reasons: we were walking through major digital campaigns with strangers to whom we’d be introducing different tools, methods and tactics. We also wanted to make sure that there was consistency across the group to provide clearer analytics.

Frontier’s action plan was as follows:

Campaign Setup

  • Using the best practices from our digitalcharity.ca report, build a simple landing page that can be adapted for each of the six charities.
  • Work with each charity to set up a Stripe.com account for processing donations.
  • Set up donor friendly confirmation pages & thank you emails.
  • Create an eblast that can be adapted for 10 or 20 day campaigns.

Eblasting

  • Send a kick off eblast on day one to their whole list.
  • Send a reminder eblast 2 days after the initial announcement to the whole list.*
  • Send a ‘forward to a friend’ eblast on day 7 to the engaged segment of the list.*
  • Send a last-day reminder on the final day to the whole list.
  • Send a ‘few hours left’ eblast in the final evening to those who did not open the previous email.
  • Send a Congratulations/Thank-you eblast to everyone the day after.

*exact day for sending each eblast may vary 1-2 days depending on day of the week and whether the campaign was for 10 or 20 days.

Bonus

For most charities, we posted on Facebook or tweeted. Others successfully inspired major donors to put down money and thus drive their campaign further. Organizations that surpassed their goal early on were encouraged to approach major donors and request that their gift be used to motivate others to give more. In this way, the campaigns kept up their momentum until the end of the 10 or 20 day period. Having “in the moment” action made for exciting days!

Putting a charge in the online giving pages

We truly believe we created the six best online giving pages in Canada this summer. Employing the lessons learned within the digitalcharity.ca report, we emphasized the following:

  • a fully responsive experience for desktop, tablet and mobile
  • suggested amounts with clear language for impact (eg. $100 helps 64 people)
  • colour schemes specific to each mission for easy and trust-building navigation
  • inline validation for accurate data entry by donors (green check = yes, red x = error)
  • applicable security symbol and trust marks (“100% secure,” Registered Charity Number)
  • minimal number of fields required for donation processing and receipting (eg. CC type, city, province was auto-generated)
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The Result

Over 300 hours of volunteer time from ten Frontier staff and dozens of hard-working development staff from six different missions worked to send 38 eblasts to over 44,000 subscribers. It made for an incredible summer.

A grand total of $237,476 was raised. $177,476 came directly from online donors, and 15% came from offline gifts directly as a result of the campaign!

Every charity reached the $10k match threshold, with the best performers raising $33.9k, $48.4k, and an astounding $58.2k.

1,270 donors contributed to the match online. 23% of online gifts came in the first day of the campaign while 35% came in the final day.

We noticed a significant increase in e-commerce conversion rate (in other words, the percentage of people who come to the page who donate). During the campaigns (10-20 day periods) the charities averaged 12.36% conversion of site visitors as compared to 2.44% March through May (90 day periods that included an Easter and a Camp fundraising ask).

The average gift increased 11%, or $14.44, over the March to May average.

Of the three charities with data before and after our campaign, 56% of all online donations from June 21 till August 22 were attributed to the match campaign.

One of the Biggest Insights: Mobile Matters

The three big charities with complete data from previous months increased their mobile conversion rate by 867% during the 10 days of the match, when compared with March through May. They had 128 combined mobile donations for a 0.6% conversion rate on those three months, in comparison to 116 mobile donations during the 10 day match for a 5.8% conversion rate.

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Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 2.11.03 PM

These three organizations raised $13,653 through mobile during the match campaigns as compared to $5,158 the three months of March through May.

Tablet giving changed too. Tablet conversions went from 2.45% conversion March through May to 12.87% during the campaign. They raised $11,766 from tablets during the campaign, up from $5,456 March through May.

Whereas mobile and tablet represented 13.9% of online giving in March through May, during the campaign they contributed to 20%, an increase of over 43%.

Match campaigns can transform fundraising campaigns through the power of multiplication, extending the impact of each donor. But these campaigns are about so much more. The partnerships over this year contributed to hundreds of thousands of dollars raised, and many lives changed. The human impact happened when the excellence of collaboration met the innovation of technology.

The first day in the new kitchen! Thank you Lucy Kristen and Grace Place pic.twitter.com/bp9fS4UiOT

— Regen Brampton (@RegenBrampton) August 28, 2015