Build a Relationship
A slight shift in focus allows the Arthritis Foundation to engage new donor audiences
By Lisa A. Yorgey
Angie Moore has a new title at the Arthritis Foundation. No, she hasn't changed duties or received a promotion. Rather, the name of this vice president's department changed from direct marketing group to customer relationship marketing, which Moore feels better describes the team's objective: building relationships with its supporters.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis that affect 43 million Americans. With an economic impact that exceeds $65 billion annually, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Founded in 1948 in Atlanta, GA, the Arthritis Foundation is the only national not-for-profit organization that supports individuals affected by or at risk for arthritis and its related conditions with advocacy, programs, services and research. For the past 10 years, it has heavily relied on its offer of membership in the Arthritis Foundation, and all the benefits it brings, to generate donations. Now, it actively seeks to build its relationship and message of prevention with baby boomers.
The Difference Between Donors
As Group Vice President of Customer Relationship Marketing, Angie Moore is the driving force behind the Arthritis Foundation's direct response fund-raising efforts. She shepherds the nonprofit's fund-raising mailings on behalf of its 55 chapters scattered across the country. All efforts are created by the national office, but bear the addresses and names of the local chapters.
"This allows us to take advantage of volume discounts on postal, agency creative and lists," says Moore, who likens the national office to "a vendor for the chapters." Because individuals interact with the Arthritis Foundation at the chapter level, this local approach has proven to bring in a better response and a higher average gift.
The 700,000 active donors on the Arthritis Foundation's housefile are divided into two segments: members, who donate a fixed dollar amount to the Foundation to join and enjoy specific benefits; and non-member donors, who donate less than the amount to become a member, or do not want to be a card-carrying member, says Moore.
Its award-winning Arthritis Today magazine is the anchor benefit of its membership program. Launched in the 1980s as a step to increase public outreach, the national magazine is designed to help people with arthritis live better lives. For a minimum donation of $20, donors can join the Arthritis Foundation and receive a yearly subscription to the bimonthly magazine, which provides readers with tips and techniques on living with arthritis, as well as the latest news on research and treatment. Member benefits also include its Drug Guide, membership card, member discounts on all Foundation books and videos, access to the Arthritis Specialists Referral List, research updates and invitations to events and activities.
"A membership program is uncommon for a health-related charity," admits Moore, who explains that most health-related charities simply focus on a donor relationship instead of developing a membership program. The Arthritis Foundation, however, has the magazine, which is "a perfect benefit for individuals with or concerned about arthritis and wanting to become a member of the organization," Moore adds. "We want to provide a value to the individual. We feel that these are the best relationships we can build."
Because the membership program works so well for the Foundation, Moore says it "would like to grow the value of the membership program … give it more weight, so we can upgrade people faster."
The Foundation has made this goal a priority and recently created a membership task force comprised of volunteers, industry professionals, and national and local Foundation employees who will review the history of its direct response program. Moore, who is the staff lead for the task force, says it will "decide who we want to impact and what they need from us." The Foundation will then meet those needs using its internal resources or by partnering with outside organizations.
A Shift in Focus
In addition to making membership more attractive, the Foundation recognizes the importance of its non-member donors and plans to devote more attention to this segment this year. In 2002, the Arthritis Foundation will expand its efforts to tap into—with different messaging—a younger audience at risk for arthritis.
Its traditional direct mail audience consists of people at risk or affected by arthritis, the majority of which are women in their 50s. Until this year, acquisition mailings, which are dropped four times a year for a total of 17 million pieces, exclusively targeted this audience with its membership offer.
"Now we are focusing some of our efforts and message of prevention on the [baby] boomer audience," indicates Moore. Because this segment isn't quite ready to talk about arthritis as it pertains to them, the Foundation will separate its acquisition tracks and approach boomers with more of a standard donor acquisition appeal, rather than a membership offer.
Says Moore: "This is the first time we will really engage this segment of the population in a charitable contribution appeal."
The organization's shift in focus will significantly change its list strategy because the lists it rents from other charities don't have a large number of baby boomers on their files. It will attempt to reach more of these younger prospects by testing lists outside its core audience.
This year, it also will be testing subscription lists that may not have worked for membership-driven mailings but may perform for a mailing with more of a traditional subscription appeal targeting those who would rather receive a subscription to Arthritis Today, than be a member of the organization.
Direct Mail Dominates
The Arthritis Foundation's longest running acquisition control is its annual fund with membership offer, which has been in the mail since the mid-1990s. It is a relatively inexpensive package to produce, mailed in a monarch format with a personalized and localized touch, double buck response slip, and a temporary membership card preprinted with the prospect's name.
Two years ago, the Foundation began testing a mini-greeting card as a new format for its membership offer. The mailing pulled a better response and a higher average gift than the monarch format package.
While both packages are effective and efficient uses of fund-raising dollars, according to Moore, the mini-greeting card format is a little more expensive to mail. Because the Foundation can't afford to mail the mini-greeting card format to all acquisition lists, it has adapted a two control package acquisition strategy. According to Moore, both the monarch format and mini-greeting card packages are mailed as part of the Foundation's direct mail prospecting efforts, but the list to which each package is sent is selected based on the past performance of the list with each package and on the overall potential of the list.
"Some of the lists definitely work better with the mini-greeting card and therefore the overall response and net revenue are healthy even though the package [cost] is higher," explains Moore. "If a list has marginal performance to both packages but still falls within a healthy acquisition fund-raising ratio, we'll use the less expensive package to ensure the net revenue is as great as possible."
It also sends monthly mailings to warm prospects; these are individuals who may have attended a special fund-raising event—such as an Arthritis Foundation-sponsored support group or seminar—or requested a brochure from the Foundation within the past 30 days. These hotline names then are sent a follow-up mailing with creative tailored to the event the prospect attended or the information he or she requested.
While its use of direct mail obviously is significant, the Foundation also runs space ads when it can buy space at remnant prices or arrange an ad swap with its magazine, Arthritis Today. It also plans to begin prospecting by
e-mail this year, and has incorporated a more targeted approach to generating memberships on its Web site, which it relaunched with e-commerce capabilities in 2000.
Web site visitors can now join the Foundation or make a donation while online. They also can purchase a variety of books, booklets, videos and other disease-specific materials from its online store. The Arthritis Foundation Web site, www.arthritis.org, is content rich. Visitors can peruse selected articles from the current issue of Arthritis Today, get the latest news and information on arthritis-related research and legislation, as well as read personal, first-hand accounts of individuals living with arthritis.
The Foundation's growing mix of media, according to Moore, is meant to "provide a gateway for individuals to engage the way they want, on the terms they want."
Because its donors and members have different motivations for giving, the Arthritis Foundation mails 11 themed mailings a year. Each package touches on a potential gift-giving hot button, such as research, prevention or its double-up challenge in which a corporate sponsor matches each donation. A total of 11 million of these mailings are sent to both non-member donors and members, which allows members to make additional contributions throughout the year.
The monthly mailings, reasons Moore, offer its donor base multiple opportunities to be motivated because each mailing has a different appeal. For example, a donor may favor research and respond to the Foundation's two annual research appeals.
In addition to the 11 theme mailings, member renewals are mailed three months prior to a member's anniversary date. Retention with its multi-year donors—those who have given two or more years, or have made multiple donations within the same calendar year—is 62 percent.
These multi-year donors are not only the Foundation's bread and butter. They are the donors with which the Foundation has built the best relationship.