The Heart Foundation has introduced a new approach to its direct mail campaigns with sterling results. Jennifer Doubell reveals the successful formula that recently saw the organisation win an international award for excellence.

The Heart Foundation has introduced a new approach to its direct mail campaigns with sterling results. Jennifer Doubell reveals the successful formula that recently saw the organisation win an international award for excellence.

The Heart Foundation had been churning out ‘typical’ direct mail appeals with reasonable success. You know the kind – standard two page letter with pictures and a tear-off coupon.

However, the feeling around the office was that “we could do better.” This simple desire to improve spurred a whole new way of conducting appeals that has significantly raised response rates and giving levels.

Time for a Change

Working with a specialist direct marketing agency, Pareto Fundraising, a raft of changes were adopted. The new approach was first used in the Heart Foundation’s spring 2005 direct mail appeal to 58,000 current and lapsing donors, and included the following new tactics:

• Much greater personalisation

• Asks for specific amounts in the letter text based on donor history

• Targeting of donors most likely to respond

• A deadline to create urgency in donor responses

• Use of specific devices to help lift response rates


For this appeal data analysis was used to a much greater extent to identify supporters who were more likely to give and to “individualise” letters as much as possible.

Previous personalisation had been limited to address, salutation and signatory. The new appeal acknowledged, among other things, whether donors were bequestors, regular givers and/or had volunteered in the annual Doorknock Appeal.

The letter also acknowledged previous donations, and asks for specific amounts in the text were inserted using analysis of donors’ recency, frequency, and monetary history.

There were more than 500 variations of the appeal letter which ensured all donors received a pack reflecting their relationship with the Heart Foundation.

Emotive Creative

The creative challenge was to position heart disease as an urgent issue requiring immediate support from long-standing donors. The letter text focussed on the issue that the Heart Foundation has to turn away up to four meritorious research projects for every one that it can fund.

The emotional hook was an inspirational story of four-year-old Astrid, who suffered post-operative complications after being diagnosed and treated for a heart condition. The pack contained a fact sheet on Astrid’s condition, polaroid photos showing ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of Astrid, and a picture drawn by her brother explaining how he felt about his sister’s condition.

The letter featured a real deadline asking supporters to complete and return the enclosed form with a donation by a set date. This communicated the Heart Foundation’s urgent need for funds and encouraged donors to respond as quickly as possible.

Major Donors

Special packs were developed for around 450 potential major givers. These consisted of personalised A4 folders sent in Express Post envelopes. In addition to what other donors received, these packs contained summaries of specific research projects.

Each letter contained three suggested gift levels based on donors’ giving history, and included a stretch ask. These ranged from $100, $150 and $200 asks at the lower end, to as high as $40,000 at the highest level. Approximately 40% of this supporter group responded and the average gift was $600.


The campaign was mailed to just over 58,000 supporters, some 30,000 fewer than for the previous year’s appeal, but the results were much improved.

Learnings from the Campaign

This campaign broke all previous Heart Foundation Spring Appeal records and provided some key learnings for future campaigns:

Personalisation – highly personalised letters generated a better response than letters with a minimum level of personalisation. Less is not more – longer letters about a compelling human story out-perform short letters. In a test at the ‘low’ value donor range, a 4-page letter attracted a better response than a 2-page letter. Repeat asks – we tested five asks in four pages versus four asks in four pages and found the extra ask made nearly 20% more income. Segmentation of data – use data analysis to identify those who are most likely to give you more and spend more on them. Donors will give what you ask them – 60% of donors gave a gift at the level of the first ask prompt or greater. Include bequestors – don’t take bequestors out of the mail program unless they ask. Known Heart Foundation bequestors were much more likely to respond.

In November 2006 the Heart Foundation’s 2005 Spring Appeal was awarded a Bronze Direct Marketing Association ECHO Award (Nonprofit category) which recognises international excellence in direct marketing. The appeal also received a 2006 FIA National Award for Excellence in the ‘Budget Renewal’ category.