Year-End Fundraising Success: A Lesson in Donor Behavior


The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health works to improve the health and well-being of children and expectant mothers by fundraising on behalf of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and the child and maternal health programs at Stanford University School of Medicine. They work to elevate the priority of children’s health and increase the quality and accessibility of children’s health care through leadership and direct investment.

For the past year, the staff at Packard Children’s Hospital have been on the front lines fighting for the health of the San Francisco Bay community amid the COVID-19 crisis. From their care team members stepping up to new challenges, to faculty leaders collaborating with state and federal agencies to help underserved communities—it is all hands on deck. 

After experiencing YoY declines in online year-end campaign revenue between 2018 and 2019—and now facing an unprecedented need for philanthropic support, the Foundation reached out to Media Cause to reverse this trend by collaborating on their End of Year Campaign.


The Outcome

Between November 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020, LPFCH raised over $500k online donations from nearly 1,200 donors, with outstanding campaign performance. The Average Email Appeal Response Rate of 0.08%, more than double the health vertical industry benchmark. Additionally, our search advertising efforts drive $7.55 ROAS.




ROAS in Paid Search

Average Email Appeal Response Rate

YoY Increase in the number of online gifts

The Challenge

Between 2018 and 2019, The Foundation saw a 24% YoY decrease during the online year-end fundraising campaign while most nonprofits saw an increase in the same time frame. The Foundation needed to fully articulate the great lengths that the hospital can go with philanthropic support to bring care and comfort to children facing complex illnesses as well as new challenges due to the pandemic.

The Foundation sent a total of 7 unique messages during the year-end period in 2019, beginning on Giving Tuesday and ending on 12/31. These sends brought in a total of $90,239 across audiences, with Giving Tuesday and 12/31 sends working overtime, bringing in more than half of these returns, at $48,327 between them.

Which leads to the question: How could we distribute more emails to ensure we are capitalizing on the most philanthropic days? And, not-so-tangentially: How can we surgically apply limited match funds to ensure we can use this potent tactic to its highest potential on important days?

The Strategy

For the Foundation, year-end giving is a time to return to the bread and butter of their mission, while pointing to the new urgency 2020 has brought to their work — and the ways in which they need donor support even more than they once did.

Leveraging story, imagery and video:
The Foundation centered their appeal around the story of a patient and his family who had received lifesaving care in 2020. Imagery and video captured the global moment that this was happening in and conjured ideas of the importance of looking after each other, our children and bringing happiness to all.

Variety keeps it fresh.
We let the calendar work for us. Many donors are quite responsive during key moments of the year, particularly Giving Tuesday and the final five days of the year. We promoted a match offer during these key moments and strategically increased volume.

To create variety we sent emails under several different email signers including: institutional signers (Support Packard Children’s (MATCH); Lucile Packard Team, etc.), doctors, fundraising and financial personnel, and parents of patients.

Also notably, the mid-month period; when giving typically drops off, the Foundation stayed top of mind, asking people to send notes of good cheer.

Here are just a few of our favorites:

“Happy holidays to our EXTRAORDINARY patients, families, and staff! Thank you for being you and for all of the heroic things you do that make Packard Children’s so special. You all truly make a difference. Wishing you joy and love this season.” — Deanna

“Hi!! Stay Strong! You guys are my heroes. You deserve so much. I admire your reliance and what you’ve gone through to get where you are now. Happy Holidays to you and your family!” — Keira


Our campaign centered around four cornerstone messaging themes:

The Problem: COVID-19 has presented new challenges for the hospital’s work; combatting the dangerous effects of the disease in medically fragile children and pregnant women. The pandemic is far from over, and the Foundation needs its donors to press through this extraordinary moment and be there for children and their families.

The Solution: The Foundation’s mission is nothing short of serving every single child in their communities with the best medical care modern science has to offer — and their team is on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, making good on this vision. A gift would support these tireless workers in their extraordinary efforts and embrace their mission of health, healing, and care for patient families.

Why now: COVID-19 has placed new demands, and new challenges on their shared work to bring joy and health to children and families facing the most trying times of their life. Stanford scientists have launched dozens of research projects that have become beacons of information in the global response to COVID-19.

Donor as Hero: Together, we can combat COVID-19 and set the stage to prevent future health crises, but only if our community of donors stand at our side both to advance medical science and bring joy to the medically fragile children we serve, ensuring that even as they mount the fights of their young lives, they can still be kids.

We expected to see a modest amount of revenue sourced back to the Foundation’s Giving website: LPFCH deployed a lightbox on their site and also made sure to run through other areas of their website and be sure gifts were being tracked correctly. LPFCH also did this for gifts from the hospital’s main website:

Notably, gifts sourced from the hospital website ( accounted for 60% of website-sourced revenue and 31% of total online revenue.

This is actually commonplace among nonprofits that are a supporting foundation or a “friend of” organization. Donors “know” giving to the foundation because donors “know” the hospital. It makes all the sense in the world that donors would go to the “hospital” website instead of directly to the Foundation’s. They want to support the work “at the hospital.”

We’ve often seen this phenomenon in the international NGO space as well. We saw similarly interesting donor behavior within our paid media strategy.

LPFCH initially asked Media Cause to run Facebook ads using already produced video content. However, due to the Facebook political advertising ban and inconsistent review process to deem content non-political, LPFCH’s paid Facebook ads were delayed to the point that we decided to shift their Paid Media Budget to Paid Search Advertising. Typically, this is a channel where we see strong intent to give. LPFCH was no different. We saw $7.55 in donations for every $1 spent on Paid Search.

This ultimately provided LPFCH with an understanding of how donors use digital channels and engage with an organization in so many different ways. Imagine this scenario: a lapsed donor receives an email asking to renew the donor’s support, doesn’t open the email, opens instagram, sees a compelling video featuring a compelling story about  bringing joy to children during this critical moment, and goes to Google Search and types, “stanford children’s hospital” and clicks through on the Search Ad to make a gift.

Email is one of the most important and lucrative channels in digital fundraising, the easiest place to close gifts at year-end. For LPFCH we used this potent channel to cultivate and engage, but also to deliver transactional, urgent fundraising messages, especially on and around crucial days, including Giving Tuesday and 12/31.

The top three full-list emails, by response rate, pack very few surprises, hitting during peak fundraising moments and leveraging a matching gift:

Giving Tuesday, send #1 (a.m.) yielded a .14% response rate and $477 in revenue per 1,000 emails delivered.

Giving Tuesday, send #2 (p.m.) yielded a .13% response rate and $216 in revenue per 1,000 emails delivered.

12/29, match re-launch, yielded a .11% response rate and $264 in revenue per 1,000 emails delivered.

Each of these sends balanced fundraising urgency with moving stories of healing and health care. Two (Giving Tuesday #1 and 12/29) featured a moving patient story.  The second highest response rate belonged to the Giving Tuesday deadline send, which shifted focus to a ticking clock and was one of the few sends that did not focus on a particular patient indicating an upside to varying messaging during key moments, avoiding repetition and instead, told a compelling story. Each of these sends provided ample opportunity to click to a donate page and stressed the transactional importance of the moment.