Donation transformation: McGrath Foundation shows cashed-up private sector how to pivot on a shoestring, deliver 2.5X revenue, double customer base
After losing 90 per cent of its revenue streams during Covid – and its marketing budget – The McGrath Foundation went completely digital. The Breast Cancer charity abandoned donations and adopted a purchase mechanic for its first virtual Pink Test campaign. The move smashed all expectations, delivering McGrath's most successful fundraising campaign to date and attracting new supporters to the cause.
What you need to know
- Covid obliterated 90 per cent of McGrath Foundation’s revenue streams overnight.
- McGrath's marketing budget was reallocated to keep the organisation's breast cancer nurses employed during the pandemic.
- With no budget and no revenue streams, all focus was on McGrath's annual Pink Test event in Sydney; however, this was likely to have no crowds or opportunities for activations.
- McGrath Foundation went digital, creating a virtual stadium where people could buy seats instead of donating money.
- The campaign smashed targets and raised $3.1m – a 146 per cent increase on the previous year’s event.
- The digital campaign attracted new supporters to the cause, with 86 per cent of website traffic from new users.
In the midst of Covid and facing an empty stadium for its annual fundraising event, The McGrath Foundation embraced digital, stopped asking for ‘donations’ and raised more than $3m. It was a bold move, says Ryan Barlow, Chief Marketing & Revenue Officer, McGrath Foundation, but the circumstances required it.
While Covid's immediate impact on the tourism, entertainment and hospitality industries is well documented, charities were a less obvious casualty.
“Door to door fundraising is still a giant within the not-for-profit space. It's a big percentage of our income – and it stopped overnight. We have a lot of community fundraisers, cricket matches, high teas or workplace donations, and again, that stopped. It wasn't a case of things got quiet; things literally stopped. It all stopped,” says Barlow.
He estimates that between 80-90 per cent of the organisation’s revenue collapsed, and with it went the marketing budget as it focused funds on keeping its dedicated breast cancer nurses employed.
The McGrath Foundation is a unique charity; its purpose is to raise money for specialist breast care nurses who provide care and support for people affected by breast cancer. Its famous founders, Australian cricketing legend Glenn McGrath and his late wife Jane, its partnership with Cricket Australia and the annual Pink Test fundraiser, where people attending the Sydney cricket wear pink clothing and donate money to the charity, ensure a high profile brand.
However, the 2020 test became a political hot potato as Covid outbreaks in Sydney raised questions about crowd attendance. It was likely there would be no crowds and no opportunities for on-ground activations or branding exercises.
“We had absolutely no idea what the Pink Test was going to look like, and we had to assume there'd be no crowds. But the Pink Test with no crowds is just a test. The Pink comes from the crowd; it's that experience of the camera panning around the stadium where everybody's wearing pink. So, if there's no crowd, there's no pink, and if there's no pink, it's just a test match, which is fine. But that doesn't help us at all,” says Barlow.
There are hundreds of thousands of eyeballs that watch the cricket, including the Pink Test. And yet only 15,000 people are compelled to donate during the Pink Test. The words "please donate" aren't a call to action that gets them to do anything, so we determined not to use those words and instead ask them to buy something.
In the pink
McGrath Foundation looked to the sports industry for inspiration, where football stadiums had been "filled" with cardboard cut-outs and faces in the crowd. However, with no budget, the charity opted for its first large scale, entirely digital fundraising campaign, which invited people to purchase a virtual pink seat in the stadium and help keep the ‘Pink’ in the Pink Test.
“The idea kind was to have fun and say ‘you can't go to the test, but you can buy a virtual seat, so it's as though you're there,” says Barlow. “In our wildest dreams, we thought it might be a $400,000 program. We normally raise over a million dollars at the Pink Test, and while we put a million-dollar target on this year, we were internally prepared for a $400,000 Pink Test.”
The McGrath Foundation launched the virtual Pink Test campaign two days before the test, and it struck a nerve.
"Normally, we start the Pink test with around $20,000 worth of donations. We hit our $400,000 target before the first ball was bowled."
The Pink Test campaign sold 156,283 seats – more than three times the capacity of the SCG – and raised almost $3.13m. It was a 146 per cent increase on the 2020 Pink Test, which raised $1.27m. The campaign also attracted new audiences, with 86 per cent of traffic to the website from new users.
This moment is a big, broad, mass fun experience. And we've seen that having a purchase attached to that is working.
Barlow believes one of the key drivers to the campaign’s success was the strategic move to abandon ‘donations’ and create a purchase mechanic. The move aimed to attract new supporters who had never donated before and were more likely to buy a seat than donate.
“There are hundreds of thousands – probably pushing up towards millions – of eyeballs that watch the cricket, including the Pink Test. And yet, in terms of unique donations, we have about 15,000 donations. While the actual value of the donations ranges from $10 to thousands of dollars, only 15,000 people are compelled to donate during the Pink Test.
“We see [The Pink Test] as an engaging experience; it's highly emotive; we know that one in seven people will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Everybody knows someone touched by breast cancer, and yet during five days of cricket with hundreds of thousands of eyeballs, only 15,000 people are compelled to donate. So, how do we get more people to connect with us? How can we inspire more of the audience to donate?
“We said, "what if we try and talk to those who don't give?" The words "please donate" aren't a call to action that gets them to do anything, so we determined not to use those words and instead ask them to buy something. Instead of drawing on the heartstring to donate, let's get them to buy a seat with their name on it. It was a committed effort to try and talk to the people who don't give.
“I think the simplicity of that message, the fact that it was a bit of fun, and super simple gave people an excuse to get involved.”
Barlow says he believes the campaign engaged viewers who had watched the cricket for years and had never thought to donate, along with audiences around the country, and possibly the world, who couldn't previously get involved with the Pink Test.
The digital campaign's success means the purchase mechanism will continue; however, the charity will not completely abandon donations.
“[The purchase mechanism] will absolutely stay. That moment is now about the purchase, but there are other moments that are about a donation," says Barlow. "It's about the cause. It's about people wanting to give, and I'm not disregarding that audience or that role at all. This moment is a big, broad, mass fun experience. And we've seen that having a purchase attached to that is working.”
The experience of attending the Pink Test is still a very rich one – going to the game and dressing in pink, it feels incredibly different to a normal cricket match. So we don't want to lose that and go completely virtual.
Best of both
Barlow says the challenge now is how to build on the inclusiveness of the virtual campaign alongside the physical Pink Test this year.
"Our sense is there's probably enough goodwill in the virtual Pink Test to do it again, and this year is the Ashes year with England, so it's a big Test match. We're confident the virtual Pink Test has life in it, but we will also need to find a new way to engage the at-home viewer, more than just asking for donations.
"The experience of attending the Pink Test is still a very rich one – going to the game and dressing in pink, it feels incredibly different to a normal cricket match. So we don't want to lose that and go completely virtual. I think the opportunity this year is to reengage the at-home viewer with a way to connect with us and still find that experience at the pink test. The key is creating a hybrid test," says Barlow.
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