Glen Hill and Fiona McPhee reveal some of the steps that have helped transform fundraising at St John New Zealand and led to unprecedented income for the charity’s 2015 annual appeal.

St John NZ - Haylee and Olivia

Caption: St John New Zealand’s 2015 annual appeal told the story of a real-life young mum Haylee, who was revived after her heart stopped, and included a drawing by her children and husband.

St John New Zealand’s Northern Region saw net income triple year-on-year for a 2013 tax appeal that focused on a real patient’s story – a toddler, Benny, who’d been saved from drowning. Behind the campaign (covered in the August/September 2014 issue of F&P) was a new data-led, donor-centric and emotive approach developed in partnership with the consultancy, Pareto Fundraising, showing donors the genuine need they were fulfilling.

The Benny campaign marked a significant leap for St John New Zealand, which provides emergency ambulance and community services. And its success has sparked ongoing transformation.

It has been the catalyst for the 130-year-old organisation’s three regions to adopt one unified and nationally led strategy instead of fundraising separately. Just one sign of the effectiveness of this change is that St John New Zealand raised $2.2 million in total from its 2015 annual appeal – a great achievement anywhere in Australasia.

Sharing the Benny campaign

Following the success of the Northern Region’s new direction, St John New Zealand’s other regions were keen to trial the Benny campaign in their areas. So they tested it at Christmas – in 2013 for the Central Region and 2014 for the South Island.

Each region personalised and localised the content, and weighed up the risks. The results of the Northern Region helped allay concerns about how a more conversational and heartfelt tone of voice would impact public and donor perceptions of the St John brand.

Still, stakeholders – including those responsible for executive leadership and governance – needed information and assurance on the risks involved. This was supported through regular communication between fundraising managers, sharing experiences and talking through stakeholder questions.

Developing a nation-wide fundraising plan

Over 2013 and 2014 the regions collaborated on a national fundraising plan, assisted by Pareto Fundraising, placing donors centre-stage.

This started out as three regional plans and a national plan, aligning where possible. Then last year a single national strategy was created, with the four main stakeholders clarifying the roles and responsibilities for a deeper fundraising program.

Regions drove new strategies and activity, capitalising on their local presence to achieve growth, for example by managing bequestor conversion and stewardship. Meanwhile the national office provided support, governance and critical projects: such as developing an integrated database to centralise data management and analytics; and managing the bequest program’s proposition, promotion and prospecting.

The national strategy also outlined the structure and objectives that now inform regional plans, with goals that include celebrating donors as heroes and embracing them through quality relationships.

Donor communications were increased from four a year to nine, giving people extra opportunities to engage with St John. This necessitated a shift in thinking and raised new questions about donor fatigue, brand risk and sustaining the return on investment.

But Pareto Fundraising could show that organisations which participated in its annual benchmarking project and sent more donor communications, also experienced higher retention rates, more gifts per donor and, in general, stronger income growth. And the consultancy’s analysis revealed that 35% of St John donors were shared with other charities and in some instances were giving them 5%-20% more!

Going beyond appeals

Bequests and major gift strategies were also reviewed. A nation-wide strategy for middle donors (those who gave a single gift of $1000-$5000) was implemented, with one bequest strategy (instead of three) incorporating learnings from each region. The successful regular giving product, ‘Team Green’, was introduced. Unlike cash appeals that raise money for equipment, Team Green’s donors support frontline officers, and specialised communications make their relationship about people and bring them ‘into the team’.

First step to truly national fundraising

St John’s annual appeal in 2014 was the first time the organisation’s new direct mail fundraising strategies and tactics were applied in a simultaneous nation-wide campaign integrating direct mail, e-mail, digital advertising, a dedicated website landing page, social media, TV and radio.

The single call to action was to donate now to “help St John continue saving the lives of New Zealanders like baby Israel”, and the urgent proposition was “power St John by helping buy equipment” – i.e. 12 new ambulances. While insights about donor behaviour meant targeting could be improved, this multi-channel approach increased response rates and the average gift (see Table A).

The 2015 annual appeal built on these gains, as donors had been taken on a planned journey over the previous year. Experiences, timing and topics across the range of services requiring funding were pre-selected for different donor types.

Donors were connected with various beneficiaries, integrating personalisation relevant to their region, donor type (using a segmentation hierarchy that varied by campaign type, e.g. cash/regular giving/donor survey) and relationship history – based on how recently they’d given, how many times and how much.

The power of one

The organisation’s structure, internal engagement, planning and budgets are still being refined. But a single fundraising strategy now delivered both regionally and nationally is encouraging donors to give longer and give more (see Table B). This unity is one key to St John’s ongoing success. Another is continuing to improve how donors are celebrated, embraced and honoured as generous heroes who help resource life-saving work.

Table A: Annual appeal results – warm direct mail





Net income




Response rate




Average gift




Table B: St John New Zealand’s individual giving income




Income from cash and regular giving

$7 million

$10 million

Second gift rate – cash donor within 12 months



Cash donor annual retention rate



Fiona McPhee and Glen Hill

Fiona McPhee is Strategy Director for Pareto Fundraising, helping charities in Australia and New Zealand like St John to develop their individual giving programs. Glen Hill is St John’s new national Head of Fundraising having previously held this role at St John Northern Region.




Already a subscriber? LOGIN HERE

F&P brings you all the latest in fundraising including case studies, best practice, strategy, trends and benchmarks, thought leadership & industry insights.


subscribe now

  • Latest print and digital magazine edition delivered to your door, computer, tablet and mobile
  • Multi-user subscription packages at a nice price so all your staff can enjoy F&P
  • Online access to all our archived magazine articles
  • Fortnightly enewsletter
  • 20% discount off F&P conferences (save hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars a year)