In recent months, two new online initiatives have generated significant funds and acquired thousands of new supporters for RSPCA NSW. Paige Gibbs explains why going online was central to their success.

In recent months, two new online initiatives have generated significant funds and acquired thousands of new supporters for RSPCA NSW. Paige Gibbs explains why going online was central to their success.

In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, RSCPA NSW listened to its donors and recently altered its appeals approach as a result.

From the hundreds of letters of support and personal adoption stories we received each year, we realised that our donors wanted to communicate with us – we’d just never given them the chance.

People donate to effect positive change, so it was only fair that we informed our supporters about how their money had brought about happy endings for thousands of animals in our care. So two years ago we overhauled our appeals strategy and decided that all future campaigns would have the following goals:

Tell a story Provide a satisfactory ending to that story Include a communication mechanism

We now view appeals as integrated marketing campaigns with multiple touch points – that is, audience communications – that reinforce the message, provide various donation mechanisms and have an acquisition component. This last goal is vital. As any charity knows, if you don’t acquire new donors, you’re going to be in a world of pain down the track.

Acquisition campaigns are a tough sell at the best of times, and especially hard to contemplate in an economic downturn. So how do you acquire new data without purchasing lists? You create a compelling campaign with a strong online presence … and then you wait.

And hopefully if you’ve built a good campaign, they will come, as our Cupcake Day and Guardian Angel initiatives demonstrated.

Cupcake Day for the RSPCA

A national initiative, Cupcake Day is an original concept that emerged from brainstorming about how we could create a passive income generating event that wasn’t onerous to produce and empowered the community to fundraise on our behalf. Having a campaign that didn’t require purchasing merchandise or enrolling retail support was imperative.

We selected cupcakes because they have mass appeal – everyone loves a cupcake!

Cupcake Day for the RSPCA 2008 was a truly grassroots fundraising initiative. People registered online to become RSPCA Cupcake Cooks. We then sent them a Cupcake Cook Kit. They baked cupcakes and sold them to their colleagues, friends and family and sent the proceeds to us.

Target Audience

The original target audience was kids and parents. However, the corporate sector embraced this event with gusto – 60% of registrants were businesses.

Raising & Tracking Online

Although this was a real-world event, one of the goals of this initiative was to generate an online community by encouraging supporters to share stories. This was achieved by a simple mechanism that allowed registrants to upload their cupcake photos and stories to the website.

The four most creative Cupcake Cooks in each state got an RSPCA merchandise pack. But the prize was not the motivator for people uploading stories; it was the pride in their efforts – both culinary and financial – that they wanted to share.

We were not prepared for the sheer numbers of images and stories that were uploaded to the website and had to purchase more bandwidth – twice!

Our website allowed us to acquire thousands of pieces of qualified data. And, by including some basic segmentation questions on the online registration, we were able to track the people participating and how they found out about the event.


Ninety one per cent of participants registered online, and nearly all of the 3,969 donations made in NSW were made via EFT online. Only about 20 people donated via mail. In terms of acquisition, the campaign was an enormous success: approximately 70% were new supporters.

Nationally, the event culminated in over 250,000 cupcakes being sold, generating a total of $309,353. Our campaign costs were approximately $50,000 (including website, event identity, marketing materials, postage and printing), bringing the net income to around $250,000.

Touch Points Soft launch via flyers and posters at our annual Million Paws Walk in May. The Cupcake Day website went live on the same day as the Million Paws Walk. Inclusion of ads and editorial in our Animals magazine, which circulates to 7,000, and Animania kids magazine, which reaches 2,000. Event media sponsor, New Idea, ran editorial pieces as well as a full page pro bono ad leading up to the event. Hundreds of cupcakes were delivered to Sydney media outlets as part of a PR stunt. A radio community service announcement. Custom-designed merchandise to complement the event. Other pro bono media leading up to the event – including print, online and TV. Project Guardian Angel

Project Guardian Angel was RSPCA NSW’s 2008 Christmas appeal. It was designed in collaboration with our pro bono ad agency, The Campaign Palace. The simple proposition was to ask supporters to help us cope with the influx of animals over the festive period by becoming a guardian angel and donating to an animal in need.

Target Audience

The primary target audience was existing supporters, and the secondary target audience was the wider community – especially those people intending to give to a charity at Christmas.

Touch Points Website – Direct mail – consisting of a donation slip and a perforated dog ID tag that donors could fill in with their name. Mass pro bono ad campaign that included radio, online and print – spearheaded by our pro bono media agency, MediaCom. Website modifications in January that allowed people to view an image of the animal they became a Guardian Angel for over Christmas. Connecting Donors to the Cause

In keeping with our goal of providing our supporters with ‘happy endings’, the website allowed donors to type in their name to see an image of the animal they cared for over Christmas. Here, the internet was used as a powerful tool to create a tangible connection between donors and beneficiaries.

Many online donors even contacted their local shelters to see if ‘their animal’ had found a new home.

Record Success

This has been a record appeal for RSPCA NSW, achieving a 16.72% response rate (to date). An engaging website supported by a smart and extensive media and ad campaign, and a compelling direct mail piece struck a chord with our supporters and the wider community.

At the time of this article going to print, over 8,500 people had donated online to Guardian Angel, with 3,194 being first time donors – and these figures continue to rise as the campaign winds up. Yet another example of the acquisition power of the internet.

The average gift to the campaign stands at $60, and the total raised thus far is $989,257. Minus the campaign expenses, which were approximately $40,000, a net income of close to $950,000 has been achieved.

Happy Endings

Many charities are exploring online as a new revenue stream. These two successful initiatives have highlighted that online can be a terrific tool to support real world activity. It’s great for collecting data, assembling like-minded individuals and growing a community.

But online comes into its own when it is part of a carefully planned campaign with multiple touch points and communication mechanisms.