Creating innovation one test at a time

As part of the ongoing efforts of CMA’s Not-for-Profit Council to provide practical tips to non-profits on how to be more innovative, I recently had the pleasure of discussing innovation in non-profit direct response campaigns with Ryan Garnett, Head of Integrated Marketing with Harvey McKinnon Associates. “Some organizations struggle with being innovative. We always encourage them to try in small steps,” he says. Ryan has more than 10 years of experience helping nonprofits raise more money for their causes and he provided some helpful examples of fundraising programs that demonstrated innovation for their particular organizations.

Great Vancouver Food Bank – 2014 Holiday Campaign

Results -The 2014 Holiday Campaign smashed all targets. The net revenue for this appeal came in 35% ahead of target. Much of the income came from online and e-mail donations which accounted for 54% of overall donations. The prospect mailing did so well that new donors were actually acquired at a profit of $66 each.

Why was this campaign innovative?

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is very open to new ideas. This campaign is innovative in the overall approach – this was the first campaign where they built the different elements all at once from the ground up, not as add-ons to each other. Overall the campaign approach was driven by audience insight and targeting to be consistent everywhere the donor was.

Facebook Ad

Amnesty International Canada
– ‘Get Out of Jail’ campaign.


The bars are die-cut from the envelope. The campaign beat the response rate target by 29%, and net income was 22% over target, even with the increased cost of the envelope.

Why was this campaign innovative?

This mailing highlighted the mission of the campaign. This was a new idea, was creatively aligned and really impactful to the donor.

Looking at both the Food Bank and Amnesty campaigns, what are 2-3 innovation drivers that contributed to success?

Testing - Both clients were very open to testing new ideas. Try not to do what you’ve always done just because you’ve always done it that way.

Collaboration - Collaboration across teams is also crucial. At times, organizations struggle to execute when digital and DM are not integrated. The mediums work better together, and everyone needs to be on board from the beginning. Holistic budget and goal-setting by overall campaign goals - not by medium - can help with this.

What would you suggest as the key take-away(s) for other not-for-profits looking to innovate in the direct response space?

Don’t be afraid to start small. Look at the resources you have and manage in steps, building off each other. Each of the little things you do will help increase your impact. Keep in mind that changing one element can have a really big impact. 

And be open to testing and trying different things. Change the focus to be on the net benefits rather than the overall cost. If you don’t try things you will never know.  

Stacey Cummings

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