Shelter’s Joan and Rudy pack: a pet dog helps home­less old people

Exhibited by
Chris Barraclough, creative director, BEC Direct Marketing
May 14, 2014
Medium of Communication
Direct mail.
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Poverty/social justice.
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

The creators of this exhibit read the cause and its audience brilliantly, then expressed the proposition in a way that donors would readily understand and relate to. By not focusing on just the plight of the homeless old woman, Joan, but specifically on the impact that plight might have on her pet dog, Rudy, the mailing struck a powerful chord with readers and went on to smash its targets.

Creator / originator

BEC Direct Marketing.

Summary / objectives

To raise money cost-effectively for what is considered to be a difficult cause.


The difficult subject of homelessness amongst older people was the issue selected for this fundraising appeal, although older people had long been considered to have ‘limited appeal’. The problem with fundraising for this age group is that there’s a perception that ‘someone will look after them’ and that ‘they’ve had a reasonable innings’, that there are ‘more deserving cases’.

Terrifyingly, the writers realised that many landlords, due to the amount of time it can take to get rent arrears paid, were using the threat of eviction as a first option rather than as a last resort. The issuing of an eviction notice would be sure to be particularly frightening for confused or forgetful older people, often women whose husbands had died recently.

Over preceding years Shelter had generally been suffering from a decline in response to donor mailings as the UK government was perceived to have addressed homelessness. One such under-performing segment was cash donors, supporters who give cash rather than via direct debit. This group was contacted four or five times a year, each time with a different message. On this occasion the issue selected was homelessness and bad housing amongst older people - focusing on a new Shelter project in Sheffield. This was an important and growing area for Shelter, but not considered as motivating as homeless children.

Special characteristics

The agency’s first thought was to include a facsimile repossession order in the pack to dramatise the problem. In the end they decided to feature the sympathetic case study of an elderly lady and to focus on the prognosis for her dog, Rudy. She may be evicted, but (perhaps more importantly) what would happen to Rudy, her little dog? This is exactly the same technique used by homeless people on the street who for this very reason often ask for money with a dog by their side.

Test details

The creative requirement was to make their plight as dramatic as possible. A little research revealed that eviction notices were now being used as a matter of course by some landlords as a fast track method of reclaiming rent. However, rent arrears amongst older people often caused by illness and bereavement so the use of a possession order always constituted a terrifying shock. We were also able to find a case history where a woman and her pet were threatened with eviction, knowing that UK donors are sometimes softer on animals than people. The main pack contained a possession order and explained the work Shelter does for older people. A follow-up pack was also mailed to everyone who had not given or had given less than £20.


This appeal style turned a supposedly ‘weak’ issue into a powerful one. Following some worrying trends to previous cash only mailings, results were outstanding. The mailing pulled in £20,000 over target with response rates nearly 25 per cent above target. Over 66 per cent of respondents signed the gift aid form, raising a further £34,000.


With this pack Shelter succeeded in raising money cost-effectively for a traditionally difficult cause.

Other relevant information

The appeal letter and envelope are, sadly, lost, so if anyone knows where SOFII could find one do please get in touch.

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Shelter ‘aged’ pack.
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The kind of scary correspondence that a vulnerable elderly person like Joan might expect if she falls behind with her rent.
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The brochure, front. Click to enlarge and read.
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The brochure, back.
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Thanks to Mark Phillips for sharing this last package with us.