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The Gist

Food for the Poor tripled the performance of a mailer by centering the donor as the hero.

Food for the Poor is one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the United States. It is a faith-based, mission-driven organization providing lifesaving food, secure housing, clean water, healthcare, emergency relief, micro-enterprise projects, and educational opportunities to the poor in countries such as Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. It is in the top five of the largest international charities funded almost completely by individual donors. 

After learning that donors gave because it offered them a sense of spiritual salvation, Food for the Poor realized it could do more to position donors at the heart of its mission. The organization scrapped its worst-performing appeal and replaced it with one that wasn’t an appeal at all – but instead a more meaningful thank you to the donor and an acknowledgement of the impact of his/her support. It made the donor the hero. 

Key Takeaways

  • Despite it not being an appeal, donors were so moved that they sent in additional donations. 
  • The new thank you note tripled the performance of the appeal it replaced. 
  • A follow-up newsletter grossed an organizational record of $1.3MM – a record that has yet to be beaten. 

The Challenge

Trying to deepen the relationship with donors without the insight and ideas to do so. 

Food for the Poor sought to improve how it stewards its most generous donors, but research done previously suggested what the organization always knew – donors wanted to help the poor. While it was true, it was of very little value in creating a differentiated relationship with donors. Food for the Poor still faced the challenge of not knowing its donors’ true motivations. 

Food for the Poor was working with an incomplete picture of the donors. The organization knew where they lived, how much they gave, and general demographic information about them. But Food for the Poor didn’t know what role Food for the Poor played in their giving portfolio or how their giving made them feel.  

Food for the Poor wasn’t failing but knew its relationships could be deeper and more rewarding for both the donor and the organization’s mission. 

How We Helped

Shifting the relationship from donor to hero

Using a psychobiographical research approach, Food for the Poor was able to elicit stories from its donors that the organization never could before. The organization finally understood not only the role of giving in the lives of donors but the role of Food for the Poor compared to its competitors. These insights led the organization to recognize that it could easily fall into the trap of treating donors like ATMs rather than people who wanted to be acknowledged. If Food for the Poor were to deepen its relationship with donors, it had to create a story that positioned the donor as the hero. 

With these insights in hand, Food for the Poor reviewed its appeals. The poorest-performing appeal – typically after the holiday rush – was taken out of commission. With our help in designing richer and more meaningful experiences, Food for the Poor wrote a letter of gratitude. The letter acknowledged the donor’s impact on its mission. Most importantly, they did not make a direct appeal for a gift from the donor. They prioritized making the donor feel like a hero. After the success of the first letter, a second newsletter doubled-down on the insights. The “Why You Matter” newsletter was dedicated to recognizing and acknowledging their donors.  

The Result

The new letter inspired donors to give even more. 

As donors felt lifted by the genuine sense of gratitude from Food for the Poor, they were inspired to reach back into their checkbooks and send Food for the Poor another gift. That year, the worst-performing mailer tripled its performance by getting rid of the appeal and switching to acknowledgement instead. The second mailer –Why You Matter – set a record that remains unbroken by grossing $1.3MM. At Threadline, we call this the Hero’s Paradox. By being positioned as the hero, the donor sees Food for the Poor in a more heroic light. 

Gross Donations from Mailer

Food for the Poor took its newfound insight into the minds of its donors and shared it throughout the organization. Messaging on the website and the wording on its appeals were updated to celebrate the donor. Donor call centers were instructed to do the same, whether or not the donor gave. Some now even focus on the spirituality of the donors after they realized how important a role Food for the Poor plays in their sense of salvation. 

In the end, Food for the Poor ensured it was no longer focusing on its mission – but rather, on the donor’s role in its mission. As a result, the organization was able to motivate its donors, inspire its team, and accomplish its mission more than ever before.  

“We have learned that donors do not give because we have needs; they give because we meet needs … mostly theirs. To ignore this important aspect of success in the nonprofit world is to do a disservice to your mission.” 

Angel Aloma, Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer 

Contact us to learn more about how Threadline can help your organization tell more meaningful, relevant, and inspiring stories with your brand.