Creative in the time of COVID-19

Our latest webinar, Alone & Together: Breakthrough Creative in Troubling Times, is now available for view on YouTube. Today, we will be doing a breakdown of some of the case studies covered in this webinar as a supplement to the video.

Responding in Real Time — Durham Rescue Mission

Those who are familiar with fundraising for rescue missions know all too well that the past few months have been an extremely strenuous time for them. Homeless people are one of the most high-risk groups for contracting COVID-19, so it was imperative that Durham Rescue Mission get the message out that relief funds were needed immediately. In fact, many shelters were forced to turn people away because they didn’t possess the necessary PPE and social distancing measures to accommodate them. To address this pressing need for more funding, ResourceOne Fundraising Group worked with Durham Rescue Mission to launch a COVID-focused awareness email with a soft ask and/or forward feature. We then followed up with a COVID-focused, multi-email campaign with a hard ask and custom landing page. Rather than wipe out existing campaigns, the rescue mission updated them with COVID-focused language, new digital assets, and media buys where needed.

The April Match Campaign, in particular, was successful despite the simple email format and relatively small match pool ($10,000).



For their Giving Tuesday Campaign, Durham Rescue Mission adopted a similar minimalistic format in favor of focusing on awareness. In addition, the email forward feature proved to be useful in bringing in new donors. The number of first-time gifts increased from 96 last year to 362. In total, from March-May of 2020, donations were up 224% and revenue up 204% year to date. The Durham Rescue Mission’s success is an instance of an organization properly utilizing their story of being on the front lines of combating COVID-19 and being faithful with their communications. 



Not at the Expense of Storytelling – March of Dimes

COVID-19 presented two significant challenges to March of Dimes — a significant portion of their funding came from their March for Babies walks, which were forced to go virtual, and extensive research was needed to find a cure for the virus. It was apparent that MoD needed to secure immediate donor support and explain what they were doing to be a part of the solution.

Barton Cotton worked with March of Dimes to create an Emergency Appeal that starts by asking their direct mail (and digital) donors for their immediate support (unrestricted) to cover the revenue shortfall that can occur due to movement of MFB events online, and the potential for overall lower giving by the general donor population. The appeal informs donors that MOD is conducting research and provides educational resources through The Mom and Baby COVID-19 Intervention and Support Fund to address the urgent need to protect moms and babies. The appeal generated an average gift of $30.62 and net revenue of over $235,000, a substantial amount for an extra appeal.



On the flip side, MoD also mailed a COVID Emergency Buckslip that proved to be less successful. The buckslip suppressed response in Acknowledgements by 67% and average gift went down by 3.5%. What we learned from this that effective storytelling needed to be main focus of future campaigns.



Barton Cotton realized that MoD’s storytelling would be most effective if it focused on the first-person account of a mother going through childbirth during the pandemic. Research has shown that stress can contribute to preterm birth. Moms giving birth during the pandemic are at risk – fear of getting the virus, limited prenatal care, inability to see family and friends, etc. MoD conducted a live interview with Susan Leas, a staff member who gave birth to premature twins in March, and then implemented her story in their July direct mail appeal. The July Impact Story Appeal was designed to give a first-person account of what moms are currently facing and how MoD is helping through their NICU Family Support Program®.



Engaging donors: AmVets

For over 75 years, AMVETS has been helping our Veterans and their families receive the care they have earned through their service. Using the house file, AMVETS wanted to give their donors a way to say “Thank You” during these challenging times of COVID-19 in a meaningful way. We know that involvement devices like bounce back cards resonate well with our donors, so we created a bounce back card that allows the donor to give a Veteran something that was useful in the time of COVID-19.

To ensure this package would grab the attention of our donors, our ResourceOne Fundraising Group team created a simple #10 window outer envelope that grabbed the donor’s attention right out of the mailbox by showing an antiseptic wipe.  Given the pandemic we all faced we knew this envelope would get opened.



The reply device was designed using proven techniques like the #1-#2-#3 treatment. We also used an oversized reply, personalization and localization because it added to the impact of the piece. The bounce back was a “Thank You” card that the donor could write a message as well as give a veteran an antiseptic wipe as a symbol that their thoughts and prayers were with them.



Cross-channel integration: Paralyzed Veterans of America

As the national health crisis continued to escalate, Paralyzed Veterans of America was poised to respond with relevant urgent messages across all channels. The biggest question they needed to address was, “what can we do to bring the urgent needs of our paralyzed veterans to the forefront during this time of crisis?” PVA needed a way to rally support by alerting the American public that these brave veterans will suffer and die if the PVA lifeline is not kept strong during this critical time.  Another question they needed to answer was, “how can we raise brand awareness through this campaign?”

Barton Cotton came up with a straightforward offer. PVA needed to meet the mounting needs of those who were isolated and cut off from help. They needed to help ensure these vets have food and medicine, provide access to financial support to meet their mounting expenses, and fight to get them the emergency COVID-19 benefits they are entitled to.

Our 1st Degree team worked with the client to identify paralyzed or disabled veterans with compelling stories that would be willing to share their stories. TCM then interviewed the veterans via Zoom to get the compelling video needed for powerful storytelling. In less than 14 days, we produced a series of videos featuring three veterans for digital, PSA, and DRTV. These stories then provided the foundation for the entire campaign.



We not only aired PSAs, but we also chose to go out and air spots on Linear TV and a variety of other cable networks with the matching grant through DDTV. Since PVA started this campaign on a digital platform, we needed a host. Luckily, PVA had used actor Ben Affleck for their TV spots in the past, and DDTV was able to wrap Ben Affleck around these stories and create a powerful spot for Linear TV, our PSAs, and connect to TV on Hulu. Although our spots only asked for a monthly gift, PVA saw many donors coming on as monthly sustainers, a great success for the organization.



As of May 31st, PVA’s satellite media tour had 618 airings in major media markets, and their national PSA campaign had 3,728 airings. They were also featured in stories on national TV, major media markets, print publications, digital outlets and military/veteran publications. We also implemented a local publication strategy that has generated over 2,394 placements. To date, almost $600,000 in revenue has been raised, over 189,000,000 impressions were made, over $6.2 million were generated in earned media ad value, and ongoing annual sustainer value is at $142,000.

Innovative solutions: Toys for Tots

While traditionally recognized as a Christmas charity, Toys for Tots knew that the children and families they serve would be hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, CDR Fundraising Group worked with them to pivot quickly to distribute 2 million toys, books, and games to children in need who were home from school, and unable to connect with friends. The next challenge became replenishing their inventory of toys knowing that with skyrocketing unemployment rates, the number of families needing help would also skyrocket at Christmastime.

Donors were provided with multi-channel opportunities to help less fortunate children at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Toys for Tots also ran their first-ever “Christmas in July” Campaign with plenty of fun engagement opportunities for children and families and urged donors to help “refill Santa’s bag of toys” for Christmas when the number of families in need will be dramatically increased.

Toys for Tots sought out and partnered with Good360 to distribute toys, books, and games to children whose families were struggling to make ends meet at the peak of the pandemic. The results have been promising. Through a series of 7 emails and numerous social media posts, substantial donations came in during a time when Toys for Tots typically does not do fundraising via email. 



For their direct mail campaigns, Toys for Tots knew that it would be important to quickly acknowledge and show empathy to donors. As a quick fix, a “handwritten” not was added to the top of the letterhead in first efforts to drop at the start of COVID-19. In their later campaigns, Toys for Tots posed a new challenge to their donors, asking them to ensure that they could replenish their toys to have enough for needy children come Christmas time.



These examples from organizations we’ve worked closely with during the pandemic have experienced success in pivoting their campaigns and have managed to remain nimble during COVID-19. We hope this helps you in conceptualizing ideas for turning your organization’s messaging around to make the most out of these uncertain times.

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