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Finding cures. Saving children. St. Judes.

Fundraising Guide in a COVID World

We all have heard remarkable COVID stories of perseverance and achievement. Many of us thought the pandemic would negatively impact fundraising and, specifically, capital campaigns.

What we found is that there is no limit to generosity, even in a pandemic. Many of the campaigns we started pre-COVID are moving along on pace, and some have reached their campaign goals.

Finding cures. Saving children. St. Judes.But the pandemic will change people in ways we can’t imagine yet. And we all need to keep a sharp eye on the future. Google featured one such story in its “Think with Google” series. The organization featured is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which has an operating budget of $1 billion. Nearly 80% of that total comes from individual donors.

Yet, according to Emily Callahan, chief marketing and experience officer, the message was not breaking through all the clutter and “revenue had flatlined.” Because of a deep dive into messaging and an emphasis on digital fundraising, today, online donations have increased 46% year over year. And, four out of five Americans now recognize St. Jude’s brand as No. 1 in overall quality in the Harris Poll Equitrend Study.

St. Jude has started transforming its direct response model into a more digital model. St. Jude’s has found that “emotionally immersive long-form stories” cost half as much per acquisition than other video content. That is a huge savings, but the effort is also increasing giving.

To make the messaging switch, St. Jude’s developed a brand scorecard to aggregate and understand all the data points and track the journey to becoming an “iconic brand.”

According to Callahan, “The messages we started with were very different than the ones we ended up with because we stopped pushing what we wanted to say and understood what people needed to hear.”

The St. Jude’s COVID success:
  • Great, immersive patient stories
  • Blending in digital efforts
  • List identification and management
  • Focusing messaging on what people need to hear
  • A mission well communicated

Mark Mathis III is chief creative & strategy officer, partner and cofounder of AMPERAGE Marketing & Fundraising.

Written by:

Mark wrote his first direct-mail fundraising letter in 1981 for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement. The effort raised a few million dollars in undiscovered wills and legacy gifts. From that day forward Mark discovered a love of the big idea that moves the needle. After 12 years at KWWL, Mark became a business owner as a co-founder of ME&V — rebranded as AMPERAGE in 2015. After 25 years of leading creative teams in video production, graphic design, PR, writing and web development, Mark transitioned out of ownership in 2021. Today he serves in an employee role as special projects consultant. He is creatively ambidextrous — son of an artist and engineer — and famous for distilling complex ideas down to a few words and a few visuals. Mark is a writer. When he found that many nonprofits struggled with complex branding puzzles, he wrote the book, “NonProfit-NonMarketing .” He also wrote a novel called “Reenactment.” Mark is an active blogger OneMinuteMarketer® with nearly 1,000 readers each week on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. One of his most popular YouTube videos is on “How to Look Good on Zoom.” One of Mark’s fondest business memories was being named to INC 500 two times and attending the INC 500 conference with other winners. Mark is considered by some a Civil War expert (and that explains his novel). Mark also served as an adjunct professor in the business and in the communications departments at Wartburg College. Mark is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is currently vice president of the University of Iowa Journalism and Mass Communications Advisory Board. Mark is married to state Sen. Liz Mathis, and the two love to travel, even when it means being trapped by a volcano in the Czech Republic for three weeks.