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Jan 23, 2003
Case Study

Irish Hospital Boosts Donation Site Visitors 300% With Low-Cost/High Impact Tactics

SUMMARY: Even if you are not marketing for a charity, you may pick up a stealable idea or two from this Case Study. For example, how to build your email list (and pageviews) by running a quiz-style contest, and driving viral traffic with ecards.

Includes a sample email newsletter that works on a warm-fuzzy personal level, partly because it is plain old text-only.

Just as many people will not buy on their first visit to an eretailer, nor will they donate on their first contact with a charity website.

Last summer, Dublin Ireland-based Beaumont Hospital Foundation (BHF) revamped its formerly brochureware Web site with these two goals in mind: To get visitors to return and to increase online donations.

Marketing Coordinator Kevin Kent, "It became apparent very quickly that the website was going to become a vital marketing tool. And as traffic mounted up, we saw a perfect opportunity to try and make revenue from the site."


Working in collaboration with web designers 54 Degrees, BHF focused on nine site revamp and traffic-driving tactics:

-> Tactic #1: First, ask visitors what they want

(Sounds so obvious, but many sites forget this step.)

In the early summer of 2002, BHF posted an on-site survey to gather visitor opinion on online donating and visitor information needs.

Kent, "We wanted to know what people wanted from the site. And it was also nice for us to show to our supporters that we want and appreciate their feedback"

BHF also sent out a link to the survey to its email newsletter subscribers, accompanied by an informal appeal for feedback from BHF's Director.

-> Tactic #2: Make donating extra-easy

Kent faced two key problems with getting people to make donations online. First, people need to get comfortable with the foundation before they will part with their money. Second, some would-be supporters are shy of online credit card transactions.

For example, almost a quarter of survey respondents said a lack of a credit card or security concerns meant they would never donate online.

Kent added a relatively prominent "donate now" icon to the top- right part of every page of the sites, it is most easily seen. No matter where a visitor is on the site, donating is just one obvious click away.

"It's there in the same place, the same size. It doesn't move, it doesn't change color. No matter what page you're on, if you decide, 'hey that's a great project, I'm going to make a donation', then you don't have to go back to the home page to find out how."

Kent's answer to the second problem was to offer people as many ways of donating as possible. The donate page now allows:

- online secure credit card transactions
- telephone credit card donations
- checks, bank drafts, standing orders or postal orders

"BHF supporters are aged from 8 to 80. People who don't have credit cards or aren't comfortable with the web - we have to give them the options."

-> Tactic #3: Offer on-site auctions

BHF added its own on-site auction offering around five items over each four to six week period.

It is a way of generating revenue from outside BHF's traditional Ireland-based donor community, since bids come from all over the world. Kent: "This is money we would not have got with our own offline auctions."

Kent prefers to keep the auctions on-site as a way of keeping people bound to the BHF community, rather than tap into, for example, eBay's traffic.

"An eBay auction doesn't bring traffic to my site; there's less chance of me picking up online donations, online registrations for a sponsored event or generating subscribers."

Items are, again, drawn from donations and the flow is enough to let Kent offer themed auctions (currently pop and sport memorabilia). "Themes mean we can target our auction marketing much more specifically."

-> Tactic #4: Recruit support from other websites

To support sponsored events and the auctions, Kent approaches other websites on an individual basis to solicit free links and banner advertising, following a four step process:

1. Design (in-house) banners for a specific event or auction theme (e.g. a sponsored Thai bike ride).

2. Identify suitable websites where potential event participants might be found (e.g. travel, cycling or outdoor activity websites).

3. Contact the site owners on an individual basis. Kent describes the foundation and the event/auction, invites their support, and explains why their particular audience would benefit from learning about the event/auction.

4. Sites that provide publicity get a thank you. For example, those who supported the Thai bike ride were all sent a wine opener set embossed with the BHF logo and URL and accompanied by the message "Thank you for your help. Next time you have some wine, think of Beaumont" (which he says generated huge goodwill!).

For each event, Kent looks to approach around 30-40 websites. For mass-appeal auctions, the number might be 100-150.

-> Tactic #5: Offer competitions to gather email addresses

Every four to six weeks, there is a prize giveaway on the site. To enter the draw, visitors are asked to answer a simple question and provide their email address with permission to send BHF-related news. A link to a site page featuring the likely answer is generally provided (which can help drive traffic to a desired destination, too).

The prizes are anywhere up to around $270 in value and Kent uses donated items, often in return for a little promotion.

For example, a local photographer may donate a signed print and in return, Kent adds a recommendation and link to the artist's website from the competition page.

-> Tactic #6: Keep the email newsletter personal-feeling

The majority of BHF's survey respondents chose monthly as their preferred email newsletter frequency, so that is what Kent sends out. Each issue (link to sample below) follows the same template:

- an informal message from the executive director
- four or five stories carrying a headline, a couple of lines of text and a link to more information at the website
- subscribe / unsubscribe/ privacy information and a note encouraging forwarding

Kent says the simplicity of the text-only newsletter and the personable writing style (BHF's Director signs his messages as "Mike") allows the newsletter to feel personal without involving expensive personalization technology.

-> Tactic #7: Offer e-cards

Despite the prevalence of e-cards online, Kent has an obvious explanation for using them, "We don't see a reason why not. It is one of the simplest viral tools there is."

BHF offers in-house original designs matching the major seasonal events and occasions: "I love you," exam best wishes, Mothers and Fathers Day, "you are invited," "get well soon," "thank you," "congratulations," happy birthday, Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick's Day.

Kent sends his newsletter subscribers St.Patrick's Day e-cards on March 17th and does the same at Christmas and Easter, passing on the foundations good wishes and inviting the recipient to send their own e-cards.

In December last year, he waited until postal mail deadlines for reaching outside of Ireland passed, then sent a mail to the hospital's large internal mailing list advising "Don't let people abroad think you've forgotten them this Christmas and send them a BHF e-card."

-> Tactic #8: Develop news content

The survey showed that visitors wanted new and recent news most of all, so Kent works hard to ensure the site is always up-to-date, both to satisfy this need and encourage repeat visits.

-> Tactic #9: Localize

BHF operates as the Beaumont Hospital International Foundation in the US. Since they develop US-based events for US supporters, there is a localized standalone site running as a sub-directory of the main site.

"If you log in there then you're obviously interested in what's going on in the US. You don't need to know that last night BHF in Ireland held a sponsored head-shave."

Donation details are tailored to US needs, so the site talks about dollars rather then Euros, for example, to make US visitors more comfortable with becoming supporters or making an online donation.


Kent says 2002 was "a very successful year." Site visitor numbers rose by 300% and email newsletter subscriptions by 400%.

"We've grown beyond our Ireland base. We're generating revenue from outside our traditional marketplace and we're supporting a US-based network online."

Some specific results:

- Giveaway competitions should never run for more than 2 months, otherwise people lose interest. Kent says the best prizes are location independent, such as prints, electronics, or magazine subscriptions.

"There were times when we would offer green fees at really nice golf courses. But they're no good to you if you're based in London or New York. So we're moving away from that."

- Auction items have brought in between $100 and $1000 each, which amounts to around $30,000 a year additional income, a significant amount from outside Ireland (the highest auction bid to date came from Hong Kong for a signed Manchester United soccer shirt).

- On the dates that the newsletter is sent, site visitor numbers are always among the top 3 for visits for that month.

- Online donations have not yet met initial expectations, though Kent says it is impossible to tell how many offline donations are driven by the website. Average online donation sums are around $54 per transaction.

- Kent's e-card drives generated a "huge response." The two most popular designs are the "good luck in your exam" card and the "you're invited" card.

Useful links:

Sample BHF email newsletter issue:

Donation page:


Competition page to gather email addresses:

BHF homepage Ireland:
BHF homepage US:

Website design company:
See Also:

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