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How the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation amped up its digital fundraising to raise over $6 million in six weeks.


Kelly Rowland, Guy Sebastian, David Campbell, 10-year-old former patient Ollie, Boy George and Delta Goodrem during the live Telethon. Photo by Tessa Tran.

First published 09 October, 2019

A common question many charities ask is, “How do I grow a fundraising campaign, year on year?” Reinvigorating a campaign is even more challenging after a decade. This is what Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation faced in May and June this year when we celebrated 10 years of our Gold Appeal.

While the Foundation’s remit expanded in 2018 – we now raise funds for the whole of the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network – the heritage of the Gold Appeal as the signature fundraiser for Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, was an important consideration. So we decided to direct the funds raised by the Appeal to the hospital for another year.

The Gold Appeal is a multi-channel fundraising, acquisition and awareness campaign across radio, TV, outdoor advertising, corporate outreach, print, web, EDM, SMS and social media. We have chosen to highlight our digital activity here, but it is important to note that this is only one element of this unique annual event, which brings together the whole Foundation in a collaborative effort across every team and discipline.

The campaign is supported by media partners including Channel 9, ARN (WSFM), Ooh Media, APN and News Corp and aligned with other Foundation events that fall in the same quarter.

The six-week campaign begins each year at Gold Day, a media launch which brings TV and radio celebrities and entertainers to the hospital for a day of fun and celebration and builds up to the Gold Telethon on the Queen’s Birthday public holiday. The all-day live TV broadcast features TV personalities, inspiring stories from hospital families and staff, a live studio audience and performances by some of Australia’s top music acts. The public is encouraged to donate by phone via a donated call centre and online.

Over the past few years we have noticed a decline in revenue from traditional channels. While we had begun to invest more in digital and had seen an encouraging response, we hadn’t fully optimised our engagement. So, in 2019, we made digital the focus of our strategy.


We engaged creative agency March One to help us deliver a streamlined campaign with a unifying creative concept for our 10th anniversary. March One partnered with Bigfoot Fundraising to deliver the digital fundraising components.

We set two targets: to grow online donations by 10% from 2018, contributing to an overall target of $6 million; and to increase donor acquisition, with a target of 2,500 new donors.

March One created a central proposition to put the donor at the heart of the story, motivating them to ‘be someone who helps a sick kid today’ – not just doing something great but being someone great.

More than 70,000 kids come through the doors of Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, every year, and money raised ensures that every child continues to receive the best medical care. Our call to action asked supporters to give a ‘golden gift’ donation to support research, specialist medical equipment and treatment, giving families the priceless golden gifts that come with world-class care: sick children getting the all-clear or taking their first steps after surgery. As Foundation staff we are privileged to see these special moments every day in the hospital, and we wanted to share them with our supporters.

We applied the campaign look and feel to multiple mediums, featuring hero stories tailored to different channels. There was also consistency in framing to build recognition and a balance between heartache and hope.

Post-campaign research conducted by Colmar Brunton showed that among the general public sample, two in five respondents reported our ads made them feel more positive towards the Foundation and one third said it made them want to donate to the appeal. Among our existing donors this jumped to more than 70%.


Bigfoot Fundraising’s digital fundraising approach for the Gold Appeal was to focus on telling powerful stories (many of these micro stories), and using data for effective targeting while optimising the campaign over time with a test-and-learn approach. We used digital to leverage all our other channels and drew on ambassadors and influencers to boost the overall campaign.

Our channels

The Gold website (using Funraisin platform) was adapted and simplified in a number of ways. We reduced the number of calls to action and the amount of content and pages on the site – especially on the homepage. We focused more strongly on the donation ask and added different price points with images on the donate page (mirror pages were created for our direct mail audience with tailored content and price points).

We also improved the mobile experience.

Facebook and Instagram ads were our primary digital acquisition channel. The campaign was broken into several phases with budget, creative and tactics adjusted accordingly. We also trialled patient stories, general advertisements, and ads that focused on price points and leveraged media articles.

We fed our conversion funnel by using video content to create interest and establish the remarketing pool. There was significant testing on hundreds of ads to optimise messaging, buttons, calls to action, placement and imagery. This allowed us to focus on ads we knew were going to resonate strongly and deliver results on the day of the live Telethon.

One challenge we faced was Facebook inexplicably rejecting our ads, which then had to be resubmitted with minor tweaks. We monitored this closely to avoid lost opportunity due to downtime.

Matched giving offer

Our fundraising team set up a 24-hour matched giving offer for the Telethon, which gave us a drawcard for existing and new supporters. We targeted lookalike audiences based on Facebook fans, high-value donors and previous Gold website donors. We ran an ‘engagement’ campaign by remarketing to prospects who had interacted with the campaign in the past.

Constant optimisation and culling of 200-plus ad variations across different audiences delivered fantastic results, including 829 donations from Facebook alone on Telethon day at a cost per acquisition (CPA) of $8.68.

An EOFY push

New ads were created with an end-of-financial-year urgency, using learnings from the campaign to guide us on audiences and messaging. Budget was upweighted for the last few days of June and we worked with our Direct Marketing Manager to ensure our social ads also targeted tax appeal mailing recipients.

Leveraging organic social

During the campaign, Bigfoot Fundraising worked closely with the Foundation’s in-house team to monitor organic social activity, which was used to guide paid activity. We boosted organic posts and used local ambassadors to share content via their networks.

This built on work the Foundation had done over previous months to engage our existing social media community with patient stories and compelling content designed to prime the audiences to donate when the Gold Appeal launched.

Five x EDMs

To leverage our social media activity, we also delivered five fundraising EDMs focusing on specific patients’ stories. These were integrated with the direct mail appeal and we shared learnings from social ads into the emails (and vice versa). More segments and variable copy were added to emails and landing pages and successful emails were re-sent to non-openers. The matched giving emails on Telethon day were accompanied by an SMS to donate.

Google SEM Ads

The Foundation’s existing Google Grant was used to drive traffic to the Gold Appeal landing page based on people searching for selected keywords. Ads were optimised each week and updated in the lead up to Telethon day to maximise urgency.


The all-day Channel 9 broadcast provides fantastic content for digital storytelling, with live interviews and pre-recorded video packages that showcase stories of courage and hope from the hospital.

Celebrity performer David Campbell hosted a ‘pyjama party’ themed broadcast, ably assisted by Ollie, a talented 10-year-old former patient, who was our ‘face of Telethon’ for 2019. The Voice superstar coaches Delta Goodrem, Boy George, Kelly Rowland and Guy Sebastian were among the A-list celebrities in the studio and joined the fun. Married at First Sight star Michael Brunelli shaved his head on air for donations, which extended our campaign reach. This all helped create sharable content on the day and post-Telethon.


Thanks to an integrated approach across the Foundation, coupled with generous support from media partners, a consistent theme and a digital focus plus successful fundraising events, SCHF raised over $6,577,006 – half a million over target in the six-week period.


Working as a cross-functional team across the organisation was critical to our success. Each individual staff member brought a specific skill which made the campaign stronger. We developed mutual trust and respect with our agencies, which became an extension of our campaign team.

We found that taking a digital focus produced a ‘halo’ effect that lifted results across all the channels. We also discovered that a data-driven approach is vital – we reviewed data weekly to make informed decisions and took an integrated approach to organic and paid social which helped to amplify the campaign and warm up the audience to fundraising asks.

When we hit bumps, such as an extraordinarily high CPA for ads during election time, we persevered with testing and optimising and the CPA soon reduced substantially.

We optimised the website before and during the campaign, using learnings from Google Analytics and heatmaps to inform changes, such as changing banner images and tweaking messaging.

Things can change quickly for the young patients we feature in our content – a stark reality when working with sick children in a hospital setting – so we had to keep a lot of stories up our sleeves in case a change in circumstance meant a family decided they didn’t want to remain a part of the Appeal.


Ramping up our digital approach for a traditionally media-focused campaign worked well for us. The methods we used weren’t particularly innovative – we applied good communication principles, took a donor centric ‘test-and-learn’ approach driven by data – but the level of investment and the way we integrated digital so comprehensively for the first time was a psychological step-change for our organisation.

Karen Kalpage
Karen is the Digital Engagement Manager at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation. With over 19 years’ communications experience in not-for-profit, corporate and agency, she’s passionate about storytelling for a great cause and is committed to social change.

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