CDE project 11a: the six steps — step three: mate­ri­als and media

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 30, 2017

A key part of any mass market and above the line fundraising is the creative, or visual presentation of both the problem and solution. While there is not a one size fits all approach, there are some key considerations that should be considered in signing off a creative approach. 

Honesty of communication

We have a responsibility to present the facts of a situation as they are, not to make things appear worse or exploit the beneficiaries. This means there do have to be judgement calls, but ultimately that will fit within a charities brand. 

Reality works

The public gets “spin”(stories spun to suit the agenda of the teller) from many areas of public life. However, it is not something which delivers results in public fundraising. Generally, the most effective DRTV and out of home adverts are ones which show the real situation and an honest and tangible ask and solution. This has also been true for out of home fundraising. This is where we are asking people to make a regular gift or a one-off donation. 

The creative execution

There is a short window in which to engage the potential supporter. You need to grab their attention, explain a problem, make the ask, show the solution and make it personal in a short period of time. On a billboard it could be seconds. For an insert, you might have a glimpse of a headline before someone decides to read further. DRTV makes it case in a maximum of 90 seconds usually. With such a short amount of time it is quite a skill to make an effective appeal.

There are some simple rules laid out at the bottom of this section. Keep it real, honest, simple, clear and tell a touching story if you can. 

DRTV good examples

To find good examples of Mass Market fundraising we need to look beyond just the appeal. It needs to be about setting up a journey for the donor and then fulfilling it. In short this is looking beyond just the initial transaction. 

WWF: Animal Sponsorship

This is a strong advert with good eye contact from the beneficiary into the camera, and therefore to the viewer. The need and urgency are clearly explained in the advert in the footage of animal skins. The voice over is strong and clear and it grabs your attention. The benefits of membership are clearly shown and described. The price point is attainable at £3 a month and once made there is no instant phone call asking for more (as per the premium SMS example above). The product is something which provides some fun and education for a child. 

WWF have obviously been very successful with this product and these campaigns. But they are marketing a clear need, a solution and a reward for the viewer. The product is also very good, with the quarterly magazine being well worth reading. WWF is ticking a lot of the boxes and steps we have been covering in this paper.

From the context of keeping a supporter happy this example does the following:

  • Presents the problem in an honest manner
  • Engages the viewer visually and aurally 
  • Asks you to help
  • Gives you something in return that can benefit your family
  • Uses a low cost of entry
  • Tells a story

But beyond that the journey works. The promise that is set up is delivered, not just through the ongoing work of the charity but through the sponsorship product.

RSPCA – Home for Life

Home for life is an example of a legacy DRTV advert. The pay back for legacy DRTV is over a longer period. This advert offers a simple premise of looking after your pets after you have gone.

  • Simple message with clear call to action
  • Resonance with the audience through the cause and product being offered
  • Good eye contact to camera and voice over

The follow up is then the legacy information and thoughtfully planned out journey.

RSPCA – 24/7

This was a successful advert for the RSPCA. It portrays the problem clearly and honesty and has a clear and simple call to action. The urgency is laid out at the start. There is strong eye contact from the animals, and the solution is clearly shown. None of the footage is contrived. This is a good example of a DRTV advert which presents the need and solution in an honest manner.

  • Strong and simple message
  • Clear approach for a regular gift
  • Strong eye contact from the animals your gift can help
  • Honest advert showing need and solution

Children with Cancer – Louis

This advert was produced to show the real human story of a child fighting cancer for a medium sized cancer charity. The campaign was integrated with a matching out of home campaign. All of this is real footage of the people involved.

This is a strong appeal as it:

  • Tells a true story in emotive way
  • Has a clear call to action
  • Good eye contact to the viewer


The reality is that many people do not donate to charity without being prompted and to do so. That means that people do need to be disrupted from their daily routine to prompt their awareness and to generate a donation or other form of interest.

Therefore, many appeals will begin with an announcement which is designed to jolt someone. Also, the use of shocking imagery is often used to achieve but sometimes a quirky or fun approach can be effective if an organisation is prompted a fundraising event. 

Cancer Research – Cigarette Packs

The agency Out of Home International ran a campaign with Cancer Research UK to help push through the plain packing legislation with a campaign on London Underground. This really stands out as the combination of a child’s eyes and a pink cigarette pack are unusual and draw the viewers’ attention.

Women Aid

Ran a campaign again with Out of Home International which used an innovative eye tracking technology. The more people that looked at the advert the more the injuries of the woman healed.

The article linked below covers a range of very different adverts that have been influential. The British Heart Foundation fat filled cigarette advert and the Barnardo’s adverts are disruptive by being shocking. However, the UNICEF Sweden advert refers to money saving lives, not Facebook likes, which is more innovative.

Out of Home also disrupts in fundraising asks for regular gifts and event participation. Macmillan Caner Support run campaigns covering cake baking, going dry for October, and asking for donations. All the appeals are upbeat in their approach. 

Disruption – Positive and Negative

The disruption element does not have to be done using a negative or shocking message. That is not to say they do not work, they do get attention, jolt people and drive response. However positive and innovative messaging can also work. A simple comparison would be the RSPCA (outlined above) and Dogs Trust. They both tap into emotions around dogs. However, the approaches are very different. 

Dogs Trust is one example of a positive disruption message. Guide Dogs for the Blind take positive approaches to their TV and outdoor adverts for regular giving. Also thinking innovatively about the approach, BookAid’s long running Reverse Bookclub insert is a positive piece of mass market marketing for a small charity.

Deciding which media channels to use, how much to pay and how to use them authored by Mike Colling of MC&C

Your spend on media will almost certainly be the largest line item in any budget your organisation deploys. You should therefore devote at least as much attention to this as you would to any other significant investment.

Five simple steps should help you ensure that you generate the maximum number of new supporters and the greatest net returns from your investment.

​Step one: business planning.

Don’t start with detailed media planning, start as you would with an investment in face to face or telephone fundraising: with the business. What is the risk of your organisation not generating positive net returns from the media investment you make?

Find a media agency partner who is capable of (and willing to) help you understand and model not just the price of media, and the number of your audience that will see your appeal, but also the number of prospects who will respond; the number of donors who will convert to giving; the average amounts they will give; by which channels; how often they will give again; and how long they will remain as donors.

This model will vary by product (cash vs regular giving vs legacy vs events) and by organisation (sector, size, strength of brand), but can be created for all products and all organisations.

You should be able, with your media agency or consultant, to create a business plan that as a minimum projects a one year net return on the media investment proposed, and ideally a five-year net return. If the media agency you intend to work with either cannot or will not create this business plan with you they may well be the wrong partner for a fundraising appeal investment. That business plan is the output from this stage one

Step two: media strategy and journey planning

This is subtly different to your donor journey planning. Think of it as the journey a consumer takes before they become a donor.

Start by understanding your audience and your ask of them. 

If you are targeting a frequent and affluent donor, and asking them to give you just £3, once, then they may well give the first time you ask them. It may then follow that an emotional television commercial, with a text donation mechanic, with a media schedule designed to reach as many people as often, just once, is the most appropriate strategy.

If you are asking middle aged, middle class adults who know little about your organisation to consider giving you a legacy the journey you will have to take them on before gaining their promise of a pledge will be longer and more complex. You will have to start with making them aware of you and the work you do. And then of the value you create in the world. And then create awareness that you receive legacies and put them to good use. And then raise consideration that they might give a legacy. And then let them explore your organisation and the work you do in detail. And then enable them to enquire how they might give a legacy. And then engage with them to reassure them of the process. All this before you gain a pledge, let alone a gift.

These two rather extreme examples highlight two key elements to consider at this stage. Firstly the length of journey from first exposure to your message to actually giving; and secondly the different needs have at each stage in the journey. In the first example the interaction is a purely emotional one. The donor will give instantly, and will probably have forgotten that they have given by the next day. In the second example the journey from first message to pledge could be months or years, and the donor will need emotional, rational, and probably peer reassurance as they move closer to giving.

The output from this second stage is a map of the stages in the journey from first seeing a message to finally giving; the number of stages in that journey; the needs of the potential donor at each stage in the journey; and the length of that journey.

Step four: media buying

At this stage your focus should be on two key elements. Firstly the risk of failure, and secondly that you are receiving value for money.

On failure: thirty years of helping charities to recruit donors using media have taught me one thing. No plan survives contact with the enemy. If you are trying media investments for the first time, or if you are testing a new campaign or appeal then don’t commit your entire budget at once.

Start with a test budget. Large enough so you can read the results. Small enough that you have more to deploy when your first test fails. Only roll out when you are convinced you have achieved success.

On value: any media partner worth their salt will show you benchmark market pricing to demonstrate the value for money your investment achieved. And they will welcome any audit or price comparison with others. One last word on this topic. Don’t confuse value and price. On any day someone will always buy cheaper than you. Check over time, and ensure you are always in the cheapest quartile of pricing. Don’t attempt to always be the absolute cheapest.

The output from this stage is a carefully managed delivery of the plan. Buying the media promised in the plan you approved; at a price that is in the cheapest quartile for the media bought; and a carefully managed risk profile as investment is deployed.

Step five: attribution and analysis

For every fundraising investment you make you will analyse and report on the returns from your investment. For face to face, that’s easy. The team report on how many donors they recruited. For telephone, again its easy: calls out, income in. For simple media campaigns: a DRTV commercial that just asks donors to call, again it is easy. Cost of TV time; calls in; donors in; income in.

But most media campaigns don’t just use one channel, and often offer donors multiple ways to give. Consider an appeal that runs on TV, in newspapers, uses online display and search. And allows donors to give by post, phone, text and online. Understanding which media investments were profitable and which were not is no simple task. Ensure your media partner has the correct tools to match donors recruited to the media event most likely to have generated them.

The output from this stage is actionable insight. Practical learning that can be applied to improve the returns you generate from your next investment in media.

Click on the image below to view project 11a in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 11a summary: mass media

Mass market media does not lend itself to a one size fits all best practice guide. The brand position, budget, fundraising product and area of work will greatly determine the approach you take.

Read more

CDE project 11a: the approach

The Commission for the Donor Experience seeks to look at fundraising, in this instance mass market fundraising, from the point of view of the donor.

Read more

CDE project 11a: putting the principles and actions into practise

Before considering the guidance on what we need to be doing to improve the experience for our donors, we should take some time to consider some of the key issues facing the sector. 

Read more

CDE project 11a: the six steps - steps one and two

Step one: insight 

Step two: proposition, products and promise

Read more

CDE project 11a: appendix 1 and appendix 2

Appendix 1: research sources and appendix 2: methodology

Read more