Hum­ber Riv­er Hos­pi­tal Foun­da­tion: Direct mail appeal fea­tur­ing Humbert

Exhibited by
John Lepp, Agents of Good
May 14, 2015
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Hospital, healthcare
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

At an I Wish I’d Thought of That (IWITOT) at the AFP National Convention in America, Tom Ahern said: ‘Humbert is an incredible leap forward into the corny by Agents of Good. It is easily the neatest new idea because he flies directly in the face of the stuffy instincts institutions often prefer.’

Stephanie Highfield of Humber River Hospital Foundation (HRHF) takes full marks for her willingness to take a risk with Humbert, making him the heart of the hospital.

Creator / originator

Stephanie Highfield of HRHF, John Lepp of Agents of Good and Jessica Rae Gordon, illustrator

Summary / objectives

When Humber River Hospital Foundation and Agents of Good in Canada started working together in the spring of 2014, the hospital was 18 months away from moving into North America’s first fully digital hospital. Although they were in the throes of a massive capital campaign, they wanted to make sure that donors, regardless of their giving level, weren’t lost in the midst of large figure gifts and architectural drawings.

This campaign introduced donors to Humbert, a ‘custodian of donor care’ and mascot.


To paraphrase Canadian fundraiser Fraser Green, each mailing, each touch point, each e-blast is like a ‘note’ in a symphony that we have to play perfectly. It has to tell a great story, must acknowledge and show some gratitude to the donor and must be pitch perfect. By itself, the ‘note’ sounds good, but the true test is looking at a direct response programme in its entirety, offline and online. If all the ‘notes’ are perfect, donors will be a part of a beautiful movement.

We had to get the donors’ attention from the beginning and then make sure they felt loved when, and if, they decided to become involved.

Special characteristics

Meet Humbert, storyteller supreme at Humber River Hospital. Humbert flies directly in the face of the stuffy instincts institutions often prefer.

Stephanie Highfield of the HRHF said, ‘We were willing to take a risk on an idea like Humbert because, with the new campaign, things were changing. We needed to find the heart of the hospital, which is warm and fuzzy Humbert.’


Donors loved Humbert!

The first mailing, as a single ‘note’, did very well. It out-performed the mailing from the previous year by 8.6 per cent. Not bad, not amazing – but pretty good.

With those results, the Foundation’s confidence increased enough to keep being a little different in approach. Agents of Good were asked what Humbert was going to do next and in the year ahead? The answer: he would be present when the donors needed to be reminded how much they mattered.

That opportunity came in the autumn of 2014: see second mailing on the left.

Originally it had been intended that all the items would be a little more ‘Humbertified’ but it was felt that, perhaps, by using the drawings below it was moving too far into the children’s television category.

The second mailing outperformed the pack from the year before by 27 per cent.

Next to go was the 2014 holiday pack. It had a great story and it was intended to deviate from Humbert for a bit. When you read the letter you'll see why this was the right thing to do. Within the first six days, it had already surpassed 30 per cent of the goal, which was much faster than in the previous year. Donors were sending in their hearts and stories at a record pace.

Historically, this pack was the big performer for HRHF: there was a 23 per cent increase over the previous year.

To take full advantage of the holiday season, for the first time HRHF sent out a follow-up pack to their November appeal. But there was a problem: every donor on the list received the appeal with the wrong name. After the panic had subsided, a letter with an apology was sent to everyone with first-class postage. Donors are wonderful, lots wrote back, or called in expressing their empathy. So messing up can be a good thing, it reminds your donors that you are human, not a machine. It also gives you an extra opportunity to talk to donors, which is never a bad thing.

Humber River Hospital Foundation wanted to ensure that at least one appeal each year has a solid acknowledgement of donor support. The mailing that was sent in February 2015 appeal did this very well and also shared the organisation’s vision for the upcoming year.

This appeal performed 71 per cent better than the appeal the previous year. And the special reminder that was put together for this appeal was 78 per cent better than the previous year. Both are truly remarkable results.

To date, Humber River Hospital Foundation, thanks to the remarkable work of its donors, has had a 32 per cent growth in its giving in less than a year! Amazing!

Other relevant information

Every mailing also included a number nine business reply envelope for donors to use to return their gifts. As well, for every pack, there was a high touch in-house version created for the top 20 per cent of donors in the direct mail file. Finally, we are showing you only the mail components as a part of this case study. Inspiring thank-you letters for each appeal, integration into some of the other channels and support in general marketing and communication will ensure maximum exposure and results.

It is hoped that in the next little while there will be a Humbert the cuddly toy will be released on a grateful world.

The special reminder for the February 2015 appeal