Ontario Nature: ‘Ruby the hummingbird’ mailing

Exhibited by
Kimberley MacKenzie, CFRE, from Ontario Nature; Jen Love, John Lepp from Agents of Good.
Added
May 12, 2012
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Individuals
Type of Charity
Environmental/animals
Country of Origin
Canada
Date of first appearance
April, 2010

SOFII’s view

This direct mail piece is charming and delightful – and it worked. It worked so well because it tells a moving and complex story in an imaginative and very engaging way. Cynics might imagine that it’s too over-indulgent, soppy even, to anthropomorphise a tiny little bird in this way for a serious subject like fundraising by direct mail. But think of the success of Disney films from Bambi to Finding Nemo and you’ll realise the pulling power of a character like Ruby among donors who love nature. Full marks for initiative to Ontario Nature and their agency.

Agents of Good and Ontario Nature.

Name of exhibitor

Kimberley MacKenzie, CFRE, from Ontario Nature; Jen Love, John Lepp from Agents of Good.

Special mailings should be just that: special. Each year millions of birds die when they crash into office buildings because they have been distracted by the glare from city lights. We wanted to tell the story of these bird strikes through the perspective of ‘Ruby’, a ruby-throated hummingbird who travels from Costa Rica to the boreal forest in Ontario every year. Ruby survives the oil spill in the gulf, pesticide clouds and other dangers, only to face irresponsible development in Southern Ontario. Ruby’s letter is complemented by a note from Caroline, the executive director of Ontario Nature, who tells donors about Ontario Nature’s legal action against the developers. Our objective was to inform and involve donors in a serious issue without being too serious. We also hoped to surprise a very mature audience with something unexpected from us.

Background

Ontario Nature created complementary content on their website about bird strikes, ensuring that donors could read more about the issue. For Ontario nature it was the first time online and offline channels were integrated during an appeal.

‘I don’t mind telling you that as the new director of development I was terrified when this mailing went out. Not because I didn’t like it – I loved it and advocated for it. But because it was so different from anything the organisation had done. The Ruby mailing felt really risky. It’s good to feel that way a few times a year. It is also a gift to work somewhere that is willing to try new approaches.’—Kimberley MacKenzie.

Special characteristics

Call to action: ‘Yes, Ruby, I hear your chirp and I’ll speak up for you.’

An illustration of Ruby’s migration path (the map) including narration by Ruby.

Details about Ruby – next to his photo, he says, ‘A shot taken of me just before we left Costa Rica...it’s my good side...’ and his signature (as well as the corner card on the outer envelope) is a print of a bird’s foot.

We were very disciplined about making sure the letter looked like it came from a Ruby. While tempted, we chose to limit the presence of our ‘brand’ on the mailing.

Influence / impact

The reaction was immediate. Phone calls and emails from volunteers, board members and donors at all levels were received with delight. Many donations came with personalised notes, one donor (who has been an active member for over 50 years) even wrote back to Ruby and dropped off his letter in person. You can read his very thoughtful and funny piece, with his permission of course, here.


Results

Because of changes to Ontario Nature's direct mail programme it’s not possible to give a direct comparison with previous mailings but clearly the ‘Ruby’ approach worked well, producing a high response and average gift (see below).

Merits

The Ruby mailing is proof that organisations can tackle serious issues with a light-hearted approach. It also serves as evidence that sometimes being bold and trying something that is on the edge of your ‘organisational comfort zone’ can be worth the risk.

Measuring an individual giving programme by specific appeals provides only a small part of a bigger picture. The Ruby mailing is an example of a revitalised approach to the entire individual giving programme and should not be viewed in isolation. It is part of a bold, strategic and integrated rejuvenation to the fundraising department. This, and a very collaborative relationship with the agency, has resulted in significant results across the file. For example there is an overall increase in revenue from direct mail of 30 per cent and, by the second quarter of the year, 46 per cent of the budget line has been achieved. The monthly giving programme is experiencing significant upgrades – approximately 20 per cent of monthly donors have upgraded their support by an average of 48 per cent. Results for the intermediate and planned giving programmes are similar.

Ruby provides the inspiration to continue innovating across all fundraising channels – especially when our wings start to get a little tired.

Follow-up of the project

In June 2011 Ruby wrote back to Jack.

You can read more about this on the Agents of Good website. And you can read the full letter as PDF here.

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Unusual, sure, but Ruby’s letter is certainly eye-catching, engaging and involving. The results speak for themselves, of course.
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The Ontario Nature fundraising team.
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The map shows Ruby’s route graphically and helps the story come alive.
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Letter envelope, with Ruby's signature footprints.