The global pandemic hit everyone hard. And for Boston’s homeless population, it hit even harder. With no homes to shelter in and many with underlying health conditions, homeless individuals were even more vulnerable as COVID-19 spread.
As an essential service, Pine Street Inn (PSI) could not close its doors or turn away those in need. And yet, social distancing in a shelter setting is a nearly impossible challenge. PSI needed to mobilize its supporters quickly. And it needed to take decisive action with the information it had to be able to ensure the health of its tenants, guests, and frontline staff.
The team pivoted immediately, scrapping other in-progress campaigns and proposing a two-pronged approach to raise emergency funds for PSI. On Friday, March 13, 2020, the day most areas in the country started shutting down due to the pandemic, we got to work on a direct mail piece and in the meantime fast-tracked a fundraising email.
For both the email and direct mail, we prioritized speed, using bare-bones design and copy. We drafted email copy over the weekend, got approval, and sent the first email on Monday, March 16, 2020. By lasering the copy and using an inexpensive prefab format, we got the mail out the door within two weeks. The emergency appeal copy underscored the urgent case for support as PSI worked around the clock to implement new procedures and secure PPE to keep everyone safe.
The speedy deployment helped the combined direct mail and email campaign raise more than $500,000 for PSI.
The first email generated more revenue than any prior email PSI had sent. Because the first email was so successful, and because the need was still so great, we re-sent the email to non-donors on Friday, March 20, which generated additional revenue. The total revenue was about 3x stronger than average PSI emails. These two emails had the strongest appeal open and click-through rates of the year (18.38% and 1.07%, respectively).
The direct mail revenue came in THREE TIMES HIGHER and brought in 3.5x more $1,000+ gifts than the previous year’s April appeal. The whopping 11.41% response rate more than doubled and was the highest direct mail appeal response EVER for PSI. Additionally, the average gift increased 28%, and the net/donor increased 37% over the prior year.
By illustrating a true need, it gave donors a way to do something tangible about the new reality we all found ourselves in. The quick response and super-tangible case for support motivated the Boston community to respond with compassion, even as they may have been facing their own hardships. In turn, PSI was able to provide more services to homeless individuals who needed them most.