Supporter events program: How Peter Mac got its back on track!

It was a commitment to innovation and creativity that assisted Anna Jones and her team in dramatically raising the fortunes of Peter Mac’s supporter events program.


supporter events programMelbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Peter Mac) is Australia’s only public hospital solely dedicated to caring for people with cancer, and is the home of Australia’s largest cancer research group. Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation is the fundraising arm of Peter Mac, and plays a critical role in funding the technologies and resources needed to discover cancer cures.

Within its event fundraising portfolio, Peter Mac has traditionally taken a relatively passive approach to generating income through multi-charity mass participation events, mainly relying on its strong reputation to generate registrations for third-party events such as Run Melbourne and Melbourne Marathon.

However, the increasing professionalisation of other charities’ fundraising through these types of events and the piloting of paid charity champion places (which offer special benefits to top fundraising participants) saw Peter Mac’s mass participation results decreasing during the period from 2011 to 2014 to a low of $30,435.34 in 2014.

To address the issue, in 2015 Peter Mac purchased Run Melbourne champion charity places and then tested and measured a number of online, phone and face-to-face strategies to acquire participants and maximise their fundraising results.

Peter Mac’s aim was to generate $80,000 in income, a bold goal of increasing revenue by 260% when compared to the previous year, and a new Peter Mac record for the event. The test was highly successful, with $103,107 raised, which exceeded budget by 28.9% and achieved a year-on-year growth of 338.8%. The cost of the fundraising activity was 15% – a strong result for event-based fundraising.

Strong analysis was essential

After the 2015 event, Peter Mac analysed its results to better understand the levers that resulted in success. This analytic investment allowed Peter Mac to apply the most powerful learnings from the 2015 event to its 2016 event. In 2016, Peter Mac was determined to continue the new pattern of growth in Run Melbourne revenue. The target was to increase revenue by around 20% to $123,500.

There were three major components to the success of this campaign:

1 Investment in participant recruitment On the establishment of this campaign, most of Peter Mac’s donor database was quarantined from receiving Run Melbourne asks (as they were in active cultivation for other types of giving). And because Peter Mac had taken a largely passive approach to multi-charity event fundraising for a number of years, there were few past participants available for reactivation. Because of this,
92% of the campaign budget was invested in participant recruitment.

The majority of the acquisition budget was spent in securing prominent branding on the Run Melbourne website through a RealBuzz Champion Charity package, which offered both advertising on the website and unique benefits to participants who agreed to achieve a minimum fundraising goal of $1,000. What remained went into Facebook advertising.

The majority of human resources for acquisition was devoted to planning and optimising the Facebook campaign. In the early phases, advice was sourced from a Facebook business development manager who helped ensure opportunities were being maximised. Throughout the campaign, three copy variants were tested, seven image variants and six audience variants.

Audiences were selected according to geography, demographics, interests and behaviour. Lookalike and remarketing audiences were also targeted. We monitored the performance of the advertisements closely, and adjusted spend and creative frequently to maximise results. The Facebook advertising, along with display advertising on the Run Melbourne website, drove users to a custom landing page on the Peter Mac website, which was designed to make the event seem simple and fun, and inspire the user to want to be a part of ‘Team Peter Mac’. As most of our traffic was coming via mobile, we built the landing page with mobile users in mind as our primary audience.

While the Facebook advertising drove the vast majority of registrations, we also received 399 enquiries from potential participants and 80 donations via the RealBuzz promotion on the Run Melbourne website. These enquiries were followed up with a phone call from a volunteer, whose role was to highlight the impact of Run Melbourne fundraising on helping families facing cancer and to encourage conversion to registration.

2 Inspiring participants to fundraise This was done through frequent and authentic communications, and by equipping participants with tools to maximise their fundraising. Upon recruitment, participants were entered into a cycle of Team Peter Mac communications, which were designed to keep fundraising top of mind, inspire them into action and teach them how to be great fundraisers. Informing this strategy was not only our own in-house experience, but also advice from other successful mass participation charities, as well as Everydayhero, Sole Motive and RealBuzz.

The number of communication touch points each participant received was dependent upon the participant’s date of recruitment and their fundraising behaviour. However, the cycle included:

• a Team Peter Mac welcome email upon registration, including fundraising tips

• up to seven fundraising EDMs, including inspiring patient and participant stories

• a solus email highlighting the benefits of end-of-financial-year fundraising

• up to three calls from a Peter Mac volunteer (a cancer survivor) thanking the participant for being a part of Team Peter Mac

• participants who weren’t hitting fundraising milestones also received support calls from the volunteer to troubleshoot, provide fundraising advice and inspire action

• a mail pack including a Team Peter Mac t-shirt as a thank you for raising at least $100

• a personalised SMS from the executive director of Cancer Research, thanking participants for their efforts

• a personalised SMS from the executive director of Cancer Research on the day of the event, thanking participants on their fundraising achievements

• an opportunity to meet Peter Mac staff and volunteers at the finish line marquee on the day of the event

• an invitation to tour Peter Mac’s research facilities when a $1,000 target was met

• two post event emails, congratulating participants on their achievements and highlighting overall team outcomes.

3 Testing, measuring and growing While there was an event plan in place, this was a relatively new area of fundraising for Peter Mac. We knew there would be gaps in knowledge and that we would be learning quickly as the campaign rolled out. Because of this, Peter Mac took an agile approach, implementing small, low cost tests, evaluating impact and then investing further based on this analysis.

This approach gave our leadership team the confidence that this investment was low risk and well managed, and also enabled the team to capitalise on well-performing strategies. Some examples of the ‘test, measure and grow’ approaches in action are:

• With no previous experience in participant recruitment via Facebook advertising, for the 2015 campaign Peter Mac invested a small budget of $1881.85. It measured the impact, and learned Facebook advertising was highly effective in securing participants at very low cost. Analysis positioned the team to secure a larger Facebook advertising budget for the 2016 campaign, which directly correlated
to an increase in registrations. Peter Mac is positioned to further increase its investment in this channel in 2017, and has used these learnings to inform advertising for a number of other mass participant events.

• In the first phase of Facebook advertising, five image variants were tested, including four stock shots and an image supplied by Run Melbourne. The team had assumed that the Run Melbourne image would perform poorly as it was slightly out of focus and seemed less compelling. However, by testing and measuring the impact of the five images using identical copy and audiences, Peter Mac learned this image was actually the most compelling. This allowed the team to reassign advertising budget so that results of the spend were maximised.

• To measure our communications impact, Peter Mac tracked donation income against communications outputs. This analysis showed that both phone and email-based communications had a tangible impact on fundraising results, with each communication point resulting in a peak in revenue in the days that followed. An end of financial year email was particularly successful, boosting income by 300% in the days that followed. This measurement meant that for the 2016 campaign, Peter Mac was able to justify the allocation of additional resourcing to support communications to third party fundraisers.

The strategy was successful, resulting in a rapid growth in both participant numbers and net fundraising returns. Importantly, the rigorous measurement against the strategy has resulted in clear and replicable learnings, which are being used not only to inform the 2017 campaign, but also to inform campaigns for other multi-charity events.

Innovation and creativity in action

As traditional approaches to Run Melbourne had seen decreases in revenue, this campaign was built on innovation and creativity by:

Adopting the fledgling RealBuzz Champion Charity program In 2015, having only piloted the program with a small number of charities, the RealBuzz program could offer very limited evidence of success in our market. However, Peter Mac recognised the program had the potential to be a significant disrupter, and that non-participation could result in an even more significant drop in Run Melbourne income than had been seen in recent years. The team also recognised that if the program was well executed, participation offered some significant opportunities. The team put together a business case and was able to secure budget for the test.

Questioning the participant flow A key benefit of the RealBuzz program is a free microsite offered to all champion charities. This is provided to charities as the landing page both for their advertising and for listings on the Run Melbourne website, where potential participants can learn more and then click through to register.

Peter Mac questioned the value of this for an organisation with an existing fundraising-specific website. The team recognised that while the microsite was being presented as an exciting opportunity, it actually presented a number of difficulties. By choosing not to use the RealBuzz microsite and using our own Peter Mac site instead, the team was able to: improve landing page analytics to better understand how visitors were engaging and how to increase conversions, remarket to visitors to the site and rapidly respond to new learnings by adapting the page.

Testing new channels for peer-to-peer fundraiser acquisition The Run Melbourne campaign was the first time Peter Mac had used Facebook advertising to recruit for any multi-charity events, having previously relied on emails to past participants and drop down listings on event registration sites to drive results. However, the team recognised that Facebook advertising offered a targeted low-risk test as it was able to cheaply develop campaigns internally, closely monitor results and switch off advertisements that were non-performing without incurring significant losses. Willingness to test this new channel paid dividends. In both the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, Facebook advertising was the primary driver of event participants.

Seeking creative ways to build proof points into the campaign We knew demonstrating the importance of the third party fundraiser’s actions to the cancer cause would increase participants’ engagement and fundraising, and sought authentic ways to build this into the campaign. The three most impactful ways Peter Mac did this were:

• recruiting Peter Mac patients as volunteers for the participant calling program and encouraging them to share their reasons for being thankful for the fundraiser’s contribution

• sending personalised SMS messages to participants from the executive director of Cancer Research to highlight the impact on his team’s work

• publicising from the point of sign-up that top fundraisers would be invited into Peter Mac’s research laboratories to see first-hand the impact of their fundraising.

The bottom line

Investment in multi-charity, peer-to-peer fundraising events can significantly impact financial returns: through actively investing in growing Run Melbourne, Peter Mac grew net returns by 579% over two years.

Multi-charity peer-to-peer fundraising events offer a low cost and low risk alternative to single charity events, with low barriers to entry: Peter Mac’s cost of fundraising through Run Melbourne is currently 13.5%, while some would consider a 40% cost acceptable for event fundraising.

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Anna Jones 

As Communications Manager, Anna manages the Peter Mac’s events portfolio. With 12 years’ experience in communications and fundraising, Anna’s work has focused on behavioural change and community engagement campaigns. She has helped Peter Mac achieve a number of awards for fundraising excellence.