Mike Holmes drew new donors, sharp targeting kept them giving

publication date: Jul 24, 2012
author/source: Peter Baker
At SOS Children's Villages, an international organization that cares for orphaned and abandoned children, conventional wisdom held that most of the group's donors were women, particularly middle-class, middle-aged mothers living in suburbia.

But when SOS undertook a marketing project to better understand its top donors and attract similar individuals, the charity made a remarkable discovery. One of its most active donor segments consisted of young urban males with upscale jobs, trendy lifestyles and high-rise apartments.

This unexpected outcome probably could be traced to SOS's 2005 selection of a celebrity spokesperson to publicize its story. Although SOS had been active for 60 years worldwide and 40 years in Canada, the group had an "awareness problem," according to Daniel Loftus, integrated sponsorship program manager for SOS Children's Villages in Ottawa. "Many people had never heard of us and those that did were not aware of all the initiatives we sponsor."

Because part of SOS's mission involves building residences for children without parents, the group was able to attract Mike Holmes, a Canadian contractor known best for his popular home improvement TV show, Holmes on Homes, as its spokesman.

Skills and values match

"We were looking for someone whose credibility we could leverage," says Loftus. "And Mike is Canada's most credible renovation expert." In addition, Holmes' reputation for quality home renovations mirrored SOS's work building quality homes for at-risk children. "It was a good match for our values," Loftus explains.

In the ensuing months, SOS Children's Villages launched a direct response TV campaign that featured Holmes talking about the organization's important work while standing in front of his own quality work. The rugged celebrity spokesman and his trademark workmen's overalls appeared in two-minute spots airing on cable channels like the Outdoor Life Network and History Channel.

Who were these guys?

Soon donations began to pick up and, much to the group's surprise, the checks were coming from men with city addresses. "Our stronghold had always been suburban females," recalls Loftus. "But Mike Holmes appeals to both females and males, especially young urban males. They were a different audience than we were used to."

To better understand who was donating money to sponsor children, and to improve its outreach efforts, SOS Children's Villages contacted Environics Analytics (EA), a Toronto-based marketing analytics company. EA's flagship segmentation system, called PRIZMC2, classifies all Canadians into 66 lifestyle types based on their demographics and values plus the latest census data and social values findings. After analyzing the postal codes of the group's donor base, EA found that SOS's highest concentration of donors came from two distinct groups: middle-aged, married couples and young urban singles from PRIZMC2 clusters classified as Young Digerati, Electric Avenues and Grads & Pads.

The members of the young group tended to be well-educated professionals pursuing active lifestyles: working out, enjoying the arts and going to bars and nightclubs. While some members of these segments had entry-level incomes, they tended to have more discretionary cash for charities because they did not have the costs associated with raising young children.

The big revelation was that the donors contained younger urban singles. The charity had never anticipated seeing a youth-driven group in their donor data. And without a segmentation analysis, they never would have gained that insight.

Cue "The Georges"

Taking a cue from the hip lifestyle of this young donor group, EA analysts dubbed them "The Georges" after George Stroumboulopoulos, host of The Hour on CBC TV. Perhaps most important for a charity looking to understand the attitudes of its donors, EA examined the group's top-ranked values to gain insights for crafting compelling appeals. The values research showed these donors to be open-minded towards other people and very concerned about health. A media analysis showed that The Georges favoured cable news networks, the technology and sports sections of newspapers, and magazines that covered business and finance.

Using the lifestyle and social values analysis from EA, SOS Children's Villages adjusted its marketing to better target The Georges. They rewrote their fundraising appeals to highlight SOS's global reach and its efforts to build sound homes to protect the health and safety of children. And based on analysis from Envision, another new microtargeting product from EA, SOS marketers also altered their media buy to include cable channels, like HGTV and CTV Newsnet, preferred by The Georges.

Donations climb, retention soars

The improved media campaign was right on target. According to Loftus, donations increased 40% annually since the Mike Holmes campaign began. And the group scored a year-over-year retention rate of 90% across its new donors. "The DRTV campaign floated all boats," observes Loftus.

The Georges also offered a unique benefit, he continues. "One advantage of young male donors is that once they make a commitment, they're not easily swayed away." While the SOS campaign is ongoing, they continue to refine their appeals as new donors contribute to the cause.

SOS's experience with young male donors can provide valuable lessons for other charities. Attracting a young donor can pay dividends for years. With proper stewardship, a nonprofit has the opportunity to develop a longer-term relationship than it would normally get from a middle-aged or older donor.

Loftus adds that many philanthropic groups simply need to shake loose their preconceived notions of who donates to charities. "Groups need to first be aware that a donor demographic exists among young males," he says. "And because fewer charities target them today, you can reach them at a reasonable cost per acquisition point."

Gifts, privacy not compromised

Just as valuable, continues Loftus, is using marketing analytics to better understand and connect with a group's donor base. He cites the benefit of PRIZMC2's privacy-friendly approach that relies on a simple postal code instead of an intrusive survey to produce detailed information and insight about donors.

"Traditionally, every question you ask while processing a donation results in a fall-off in the amount of the donation," says Loftus. "With PRIZMC2, we've been able to maintain our level of donations because we don't have to pull the energy of the donor away from the donation to answering questions. All we need is a donor's postal code to learn their PRIZMC2 segment and find out who they are and what they're interested in."

Peter Baker is vice president and practice leader, overseeing the fundraising, packaged goods and municipal government sectors at Environics Analytics. This article about the work of Environics Analytics first appeared in Direct Marketing magazine. Used with permission. www.environicsanalytics.ca.

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