Already one of South Australia’s most successful direct mail fundraisers, Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) SA/NT was looking to lift response rates and income from its 2023 Christmas appeal.

The RFDS SA/NT team worked with Donor Republic to develop a 10-point plan designed to build on strength.

Together, they put in place a strategy that would identify and implement direct mail best practice optimisations and enhancements, rather than making radical changes.  

In a year characterised by flatter than usual results among many charities, RFDS SA/NT achieved a 50% increase in gross income compared to the previous year, a 47% increase in the number of donations, and a 29% increase in response rate to 12.29%.

In previous years, RFDS SA/NT had used a single-shot direct mail approach, with a two-page letter, a single, mostly rational lift, and a response mechanism. They had sent the same pack to all donors, with a mail file of 23,500 standard-value donors, and 1100 mid-value donors. 

In 2023, their strategy was evolved to also include:

Having completed donor value proposition development work with Donor Republic earlier in 2023, the first step in the RFDS SA/NT Christmas plan was to ensure their new proposition was applied.

Recognising that South Australians and Territorians were likely to be travelling at Christmas time, the donor value proposition — For the people and the life you love, keep the Flying Doctor flying — was adapted to a specific appeal proposition, focusing on readiness:

Help keep RFDS SA/NT aircraft ready to fly at a moment’s notice with the lifesaving equipment they need, ready to go, 24/7 because you never know when you or someone you love is going to need the Flying Doctor.

Following best practice principles, the appeal proposition was then brought to life using a case study-driven approach. The appeal told how Christmas had “come early for Ash”, whose life was saved when the Flying Doctor came to his rescue following a devastating motorcycle accident, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest hospital.

Where RFDS SA/NT had mailed only once at Christmas in previous years, it added a second wave in 2023, giving donors a second chance to see and respond to the appeal, with added urgency in the second wave.

Calling on the best practice principle that longer letters are better performers, Donor Republic recommended RFDS SA/NT take their wave one letter from two pages to four, increasing the opportunities for more emotional content, and more asks.

To increase engagement, encourage greater “dwell time” within the pack, and enrich donors’ experience of the appeal, an emotional lift was added to the wave one mailpack, together with a small freemium to build reciprocity.

A first for RFDS SA/NT in this appeal was the addition of a specific mid and high-value donor version of both the first and second wave mailpacks. 

In order to test the impact of the treatment, it was decided to use the same proposition for the mid and high-value version, rather than develop a specific proposition for this important audience.

The results spoke for themselves, with the mid and high-value pack extension delivering an impressive 29% of total campaign income, and from a mailing cohort that represented only 4.64% of the total file.

While RFDS SA/NT has always used effective asks, the Donor Republic and RFDS SA/NT teams identified an opportunity with this appeal’s proposition to add additional tangible information into dollar handles, reflecting the specific ways that donor gifts would help keep RFDS aircraft “rescue ready”. 

As well as adding a specific mid and high-value treatment, RFDS SA/NT added significantly more personalisation, in the form of variable paragraphs for different key cohorts. Included amongst these were confirmed bequestors, current donors, current donors who are also past patients, lapsed donors and regular donors.

The mail components of the campaign were also supported by five eDM journeys, which tested short vs long copy, image vs no image and send day.

Long copy out-performed short copy, with a 21% increase in click-through rate. Day of delivery made no difference, and graphics out-performed text-only with a 57% increase in click through.

Adding breadth to the appeal, a key part of the strategy was to expand the traditional mail appeal into digital channels, adding paid social media ads focusing on new donor acquisition, and a Raisely landing page. 

Wrapping up the outcomes, Andrew reinforced the importance of best practice once again. “The success of this strategy and approach is a powerful reminder that it never hurts to stop and sense check that your DM program has its eyes firmly fixed on DM best practice principles. Even solid appeals can be lifted,” he said.