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How Canuck Place Children’s Hospice Acquired More Donations by Building a Blanket Fort

Published by Nathan Hill

Located in Vancouver, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice has been serving terminally ill children in British Columbia, CA for more than 20 years. They offer a wide range of services for children and their families including medical and nursing care, recreational therapy, and counseling. 55% of Canuck Place’s funding comes from donations, so donor acquisition efforts are crucial to their impact as an organization.

The Problem

Public perception of Canuck Place is consistently positive – it’s hard to come by someone who doesn’t think serving terminally ill children is a good cause. In fact, a portion of their funding comes from the Vancouver Canucks and the Province of British Columbia. With this sort of public support, you might guess that fundraising would come easy.

But according to Elizabeth Moffat, the digital communications coordinator at Canuck Place, the topic of terminally ill children tends to shut down conversations. This makes finding and acquiring new donors difficult. If no one wants to have the conversation, how can you ever ask them to give?

They needed a plan to re-orient the way people viewed the work of Canuck Place – taking the spotlight off of terminal illness, and shifting it towards something more positive.

The Plan

To solve this problem, Canuck Place – in partnership with Capulet –  launched the Best Day Ever campaign. The core of this campaign was a giant blanket fort that they constructed downtown Vancouver. They invited the public and media to join them as they shared stories of how previous donations to Canuck Place had provided children with their Best Day Ever.

Watch the video below to see the Best Day Ever blanket fort:

Surrounding this event, they spent an entire month sharing Best Day Ever stories through email, social media, and direct mail. They sent cards that were drawn by a child to current donors thanking them for their support. Over 200 recipients responded back with their own cards, wishing the children at Canuck Place their own “Best Day Ever.”

They also set up a “Birthday Stewardship Program” in which they collected the birthdays of existing donors and visitors to their blanket fort. They plan to use this data share stories and ask them to give back on their “Best Day Ever.”

All in all, Canuck Place launched an integrated multi-channel campaign to re-orient the public’s view of their work. This way, when people think of Canuck Place, they don’t just think of sick children – they think of the joy and life that these children are able to experience through the generosity of others.

The Results

As a result of this integrated campaign, Canuck Place doubled their web traffic in May 2017 compared to May 2016. They collected over 200 email addresses – a big success for this size of organization. And throughout this campaign, they had a goal of reaching $10,000 in donations.

At the end of May, they had surpassed their online donations goal with $14,500 in donations. 20% of those donations came from first time donors. They brought in an additional $31,000+ from direct mail, and approximately $3500 from donations from school groups and at the blanket fort itself.

According to Elizabeth Moffat, Canuck Place received numerous comments of support and gratitude along the way, confirming that they had achieved their goal of shifting the way people viewed Canuck Place.

The Learning

This isn’t one of those campaigns you can perfectly copy and paste over to your organization. It wouldn’t make sense for everyone to go build a blanket fort in their downtown area. But the underlying theme in the success of this campaign is how your message affects your donor’s motivation.

Canuck Place didn’t fundamentally change the work they were doing to serve children – they just changed the way they demonstrated it. They invited their donors and their community to experience the value that they bring to the lives of these children. And by allowing someone to experience your value proposition for themselves, you can begin to shift their motivation and increase the likelihood that they will support your organization financially.

That’s why we gave Canuck Place Children’s Hospice a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Award. They were able to 1) identify that people weren’t connecting with their value proposition in an effective way; 2) refocus their message in a way that brought in droves of supporters; and 3) convert their new-found supporters into emails, donors, and revenue in order to grow their impact.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.