Since its founding after World War II, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. And for 60 years, UNICEF Canada has contributed to the cause by raising money for food, health care, sanitation and educational programs—$35 million this past year alone.

But with 230 million children suffering in countries plagued by armed conflicts, inadequate health services and poor nutrition, UNICEF Canada is always looking for new ways to entice donors. In the past, most of its contributions—about one-third of revenues—came from a monthly donor program promoted through direct mail, email, door-to-door canvassing and community events. Contributors responded to the organization’s broad message to deliver aid where it was needed most.

But last year Deana Shaw, vice president of direct and integrated marketing at UNICEF Canada, wondered if the organization could better connect with donors. A 20-year marketing veteran with experience in both corporate and not-for-profit sectors, she’d already helped raise over $125 million in support of children through UNICEF Canada. But with new technology changing the way Canadians accessed information and responded to charitable causes, Shaw worried that giving patterns were changing. She believed that UNICEF Canada needed to develop a new donation instrument that gave contributors more choice in how their money would be spent.

“You can’t assume that what you’ve done in the past will work in the future,” says Shaw from her office in Toronto. “We needed a product for people who were philanthropic but also wanted to see the impact of their gift. We wondered how close the donor could get to the experience of changing a child’s life.”

To create the new monthly donor product, UNICEF turned to Environics Analytics (EA), the marketing and data analytics company, to learn more about the demographics and social values of current monthly donors. Analysts examined them using PRIZM, the segmentation system that classifies Canadians into 68 different lifestyle types. The research identified eight groups of PRIZM segments—with names like Urbane Villagers (wealthy, middle-aged urban sophisticates), Young Digerati (younger, upscale urban trendsetters) and Grey Pride (lower-middle-class suburban apartment-dwelling seniors)—that accounted for 94% of monthly donations.

EA analysts then profiled the donor groups, detailing where they lived, how they spent their time and money, and what issues were most important to them—all to help guide UNICEF Canada’s marketing and messaging. For instance, one of the segment groups, named Older Affluent Families, expressed a strong connection to their community, which suggested that they’d respond to a message emphasizing the organization’s mission to help children. Meanwhile, another group named Young Upscale Monthly Donors scored high for global social consciousness, indicating an interest in helping people around the world. “The detailed demographic and values data provided UNICEF with insight into who donates to us and how to speak to them,” says Shaw.

UNICEF Canada also organized a half-dozen focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of its donors and how the donation product might be structured. The resulting marketing brief was given to the organization’s creative agency, Idea Studio, which came back with a new monthly donation product called Survival 365. With Survival 365, every time a donor makes a contribution, UNICEF responds with an emailed thank-you message detailing what life-saving products their donation purchased, such as bed nets to combat malaria or water purification tablets to provide children with clean water.

“Depending on which month we are in, the message may say that your donation of $20 provided 2,580 water purification tablets or 45 measles vaccines,” Shaw explains. “This approach helps donors feel connected to what they’re giving. It enables us to convey to someone who is supporting children through UNICEF the impact of their gift every month. That’s the power of the program.”

Last August, UNICEF Canada launched Survival 365 with door-to-door and email test campaigns in the Calgary market. The results were eye-opening. Although the average gift amount was the same as the traditional monthly program, the attrition rate of Survival 365 donors from one month to the next was 30% lower—reflecting the “stickiness” of the new campaign among donors. At the same time, marketers quickly reached their initial goal of attracting 500 new donors across Canada.

“The results are preliminary but have been phenomenal,” says Shaw. “It’s been quite a success and there’s a lot of future potential.” Eventually, UNICEF Canada hopes to make all of their monthly programs digital-only to save money on the marketing costs. “This product is already appealing because more donors are staying on and our return on investment is higher,” she continues. “But we should see cost efficiencies improve over time with this digital-only program because we won’t have to worry about postage and production costs from mailings.”

And the product’s impact will likely be felt beyond Canada. At a recent meeting of UNICEF fundraising leaders in Geneva, other countries expressed interest in Survival 365, including the United States, China, Australia and New Zealand. “There was a lot of excitement,” says Shaw. “There’s definitely global appeal and there are already a lot of eyes on this because we’ve had such a great result in a short period of time.”

Still, Shaw is proud of the fact that Survival 365 was developed in Canada and may become the organization’s flagship monthly product. The mother of three admits that she’s passionate about her UNICEF work and hopes to leave a positive legacy for her children. Although most young people in North America don’t experience the basic life challenges facing those in other parts of the world, she wants to make sure her children remain aware of their plight and know there is always something they can do to help.

“We’re fortunate living in North America,” Shaw says. “But when you work for UNICEF, you’re exposed to the needs that exist around the world. And you learn that such a small amount of money can have such a big impact. If I have a product that will engage Canadians and keep them on that journey for a longer time, that’s what we’re all about.”

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Peter Baker

Peter Baker is vice president and practice leader at Environics Analytics, overseeing the fundraising, municipal government, university advancement and library sectors.

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