St. Vin­cent de Paul’s Bear Pack: bring­ing the cute and cud­dly back to Christmas

Exhibited by
Daniel Alvey
November 14, 2019
Medium of Communication
Direct mail pack
Target Audience
Warm donors recruited online
Type of Charity
Fighting poverty
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This campaign shows the value and importance of sharing positive messages, especially at Christmas. Eschewing the temptation to ‘guilt-trip’ donors, St Vincent de Paul’s fundraisers created a cute, cuddly and heart-warming character called ‘Vincent the bear’ and used him in their first direct mail pack to warm donors recruited online. The results defied accepted wisdom and proved that thinking positively and telling a great story can be real drivers for success.

Summary / objectives

This was SVP’s first ever direct mail pack to 5,000 warm donors mostly recruited online. Its aims were to prove these donors would respond to a prompt through a different channel and raise €120,000. The concept for the pack was a cute and cuddly teddy bear who had a positive Christmas story. Its simplicity and festive cheer resonated with donors, with 21 per cent responding to raise €246,000.


In our rush to extract the most out of the Christmas high season for fundraising, do we sometimes lose touch with what our donors love most about the holidays?

Sitting down to plan SVP’s first ever Christmas direct mail pack, I spread out five Christmas packs from other leading charities in Ireland. I couldn’t help noticing the use of negative words, concepts and imagery. The story used in most could have been chosen at any time of year. The only connection to the holidays in these packs was ‘Please give this Christmas’.

Is this the best way to motivate donors at Christmas I wonder? Do they want to read the same stories of desperate need they see all year? Or are they looking for something with an extra dose of Christmas spirit? An opportunity for them to be Ebenezer Scrooge bursting into Bob Cratchit’s house on Christmas Day, a big turkey in hand?

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been fundraising in Ireland since it was established in 1844. Fundraising was mostly driven by local offices and volunteers of the Society until a national fundraising team was established in the national office in 2008. The focus of this team was to drive a multi-channel above-the-line campaign to facilitate volunteer fundraising on the ground.

In more recent years, this small team of three has understood the importance of cultivating donors in a more strategic way and, specifically, those that come through the online website. After a number of years of successful direct marketing through emails, the team set out to increase the revenue and retention rate of these donors by taking them multi –channel and introducing direct mail.

Throughout the year, we conducted numerous interviews with volunteers and beneficiaries to find the emotional story that would be central to this pack and that donors would connect with. One stood out as particularly powerful for Christmas: the story of a young girl, living alone in a women’s refuge, who had been gifted a teddy bear by a volunteer and decided to name it ‘Vincent’. This gave rise to the creative concept of the ‘Vincent Bear’ pack.

Our budget for this campaign was only €10,000 so we decided to do most of the work on the pack in-house. We employed a freelance copywriter, Colin Skehan, and a freelance designer, Hannah Fleetwood, to help us with the creative.

Christmas is a very traditional time to donate to charities, in particular SVP. We decided to create a pack with very strong Christmas themes and symbolism throughout.

Core to this would be the ‘Vincent Bear’ concept. We could not think of a more emotional story for donors than that of a young girl all alone at Christmas in a women’s refuge with just her teddy bear for company. The fact that she had named this bear ‘Vincent’ demonstrated the difference SVP, and by extension donors, had made in her life. It also tied into SVP’s mission of providing practical assistance to those in poverty and companionship to those who are lonely.

Our designer created a warm and friendly original illustration of the ‘Vincent Bear’ and this was used throughout the pack to create consistency and an emotional reference.

The colours for the pack were a soft, warm blue and a Christmassy red. We chose matte instead of glossy and the design was kept simple, unpolished and rough around the edges in places. We wanted to avoid a pack that looked too commercial and like a traditional marketing piece. Instead we wanted it to feel amateur, friendly and personal as donors would expect from a local-based, volunteer charity like SVP.

The cover letter came directly from the National President, Kieran Stafford, in an authentic, emotional and colloquial voice. Instead of traditional marketing mechanics such as repeated use of the donor’s first name and repetition of the ask amount, we chose a more personal style and imagined how one friend would write to another.

For the first lift item, we created an A5 Christmas card, personalised with the donor’s first name on page two and in a photo with staff on page seven. We included stories and messages of thanks from volunteers in Cork, Dublin and Tipperary to give it a regional spread. For the second lift item, we created an A5 card with two ‘Vincent Bears’ that could be perforated out. One was a gift to the donor to hang on their tree. The second was an engagement device for the donor to write a message on and return to be hung on the tree in SVP.

3,165 of the donors were also opted in to receive email so we planned an email campaign for them that supplemented the direct mail pack. These emails were very short with copy related directly back to the pack and a clear call-to-action to donate. We sent one email on the day the pack landed and three reminders over the following weeks to donors yet to respond.


Our overall response rate was 21 per cent, almost double our target and far above benchmarks for the sector in Ireland. Income raised was above double our target, with a total of €246,160. This meant a phenomenal ROI of 25.6:1 and, with costs of only €9,619, we produced a net income of €236,541. The response rate for the active segment (donors who had given in the past 12 months) was an incredible 31%, amongst the very best in the sector. The only other direct mail campaigns that compare with this have been developed consistently over a number of years.

We also compared donors who only received emails during the Christmas period to those that received emails and the direct mail pack. The percentage gain in response rate from those that received the direct mail pack was 78 per cent and their average gift also increased by 12 per cent.

Special characteristics

This direct mail pack was sent to a file of donors mostly recruited online. It helped break the myth that donors only respond best through the channels they are recruited. In fact donors that received post and emails, had a response rate double that of the control group who only received email.

It also challenged the norm on sending packs with lots of negative words and concepts to donors at Christmas time. Instead it tried to tap into the Christmas spirit with lots of positive, festive imagery and a story of how one toy teddy bear made such an impact on a young girl.

The campaign was so successful and impactful that it won the Gold Award in the Fundraising Category at the Irish National Marketing Awards.