Ever tried building a donations program ‘ for a membership based organisation ‘ in the middle of a recession? The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) did, with much success. Bridget Gerrie outlines the trust’s FINZ award-winning campaign.

Ever tried building a donations program – for a membership based organisation – in the middle of a recession? The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) did, with much success. Bridget Gerrie outlines the trust’s FINZ award-winning campaign.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) is the guardian of the country’s heritage, and its work involves identifying valuable heritage sites, managing and maintaining them, and fostering an appreciation of them.

The organisation has 22,000 members and is funded to the tune of 80% by the government, and there has been little structured fundraising in the past. However, as the financial needs of the organisation have grown, it became apparent that a more comprehensive fundraising program was required, and it was decided to explore direct mail as an option.

Would members give more?

Two key challenges formed a backdrop to the direct mail trial. First, as a member-based organisation, members pay an annual subscription. How would they feel about being asked to provide further financial support? The trust was sensitive about upsetting people who were already supporting the organisation.

Secondly, the country was in the grip of a recession, so fundraising expectations would need to be tempered by the poor economic climate.

If at first you don’t succeed … try, try, try again!

The trust’s first direct mail initiative, assisted by an agency, produced mixed results. Many donations were received, but the costs were prohibitive.

A second initiative involved sending out a letter with the trust’s membership magazine, Heritage New Zealand. Writing and printing was done in-house, which kept costs low – but unfortunately it also kept donations low, suggesting a personalised approach was likely to be more effective.

It was at this stage that NZHPT found Marketing Impact, a direct marketing agency, and a very productive partnership was born. A two-part direct mail campaign was decided on, and once the subject of the campaign was chosen, the agency provided the creative input and production.

Key creative elements of the mail pack

The first direct mail campaign in July 2009 asked for funds for the NZHPT’s work in general. It included two postcards featuring trust properties and offered free admission to one property as an incentive.

The second campaign in November asked members to support the 48 properties NZHPT cares for nation-wide. That campaign included three Christmas cards and continued the free voucher incentive that worked well in the original campaign. Indeed, numerous donors made more than one donation to receive further vouchers.

The historic Alberton property in Auckland was the focus of the campaign, with donations to assist in restoration and conservation work. The December edition of Heritage New Zealand included an advertisement about the appeal to remind members of the urgent need.

Framing the ask

An important challenge for the appeals was to leverage the connection that members have with the various heritage sites and properties. People become engaged with the work of the trust because they can visit many of the sites and hear the wonderful stories of the history of the buildings and the people who lived in them.

A key theme for the trust is ensuring sites are maintained for future generations, which resonates with members and donors, and is why children were included in many images.

As mentioned earlier, the trust was sensitive about asking financially committed members for additional donation support, so the ask was put in the context of providing those members who could afford to give the opportunity to do so. It was all about “their choice” of whether or not they were able to give, and it was made clear to members that it was easy for them to opt out of receiving appeal letters.

Program objectives

The campaign’s primary objectives were financial, promotional and educational. It was important the campaign reinforced the needs of the trust, which were to:

Increase income from donations Raise the issue of bequests Encourage donations without a negative impact on membership Educate staff, board members and volunteers about the benefits of donations The results

In two campaigns a total of 26,480 letters were sent. NZHPT received 2,135 donations and 248 other contacts (remove from mailing list, letters of support, complaints). The total income was $87,678.13, and the total cost was $39,495.74.

Ten people contacted the trust for information about bequests, and another two people confirmed bequests. Further, a huge amount of information was gained about the giving habits of NZHPT’s members, information that will be used to refine future campaigns.

A point of note was that some members often held their donation back until their next subscription renewal, so donations arrived over a long period of time.

All in all, the campaign achieved its goals despite the recession and some trepidation about alienating existing members, and the trust is looking forward to building on this new fundraising foundation.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust won the 2010 FINZ award for annual/regular giving programs.