Haiti Aid Group Scrambles to Launch Campaign, But Sees Big Results

Social media sites were abuzz yesterday with updates about the Red Cross’s $10-donation, short-code mobile campaign that has raised $5 million for Haiti earthquake victims. But it’s not the only disaster relief fundraiser that’s been leveraging digital channels this week — and doing so in a hurried fashion.

World Vision International has raised $3.9 million online so far after quickly employing SEM, display ads, e-mail, and social media efforts. The Federal Way, WA-based organization immediately focused on getting the campaign up and running when the news of the earthquake was first heard around 2:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Tuesday.

“We had [a short] article up at our Web site within two minutes of the first notice we got of the disaster,” said Randy Strash, a strategy director for World Vision, which focuses on children’s advocacy. “Within two hours, we had modified our homepage for the Haiti earthquake. Within three hours, we were purchasing search words and putting together an e-mail to send to our donors.”

Tara Gajadhar, marketing program manager, said the 59-year-old nonprofit has boiler templates in place from online disaster efforts of the recent past (the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, etc.) that can be tweaked to get campaigns up rather quickly. Yet she explained, “I left that night at about 12:30 a.m. It was all-hands-on-deck.”

During the long day Gajadhar described, her organization purchased keywords on Google, Bing, and Yahoo and has since held the top sponsored links for phrases like “Haiti,” “Haiti earthquake,” and “Haiti, earthquake, relief.” Todd Ranson, World Vision’s search marketing manager, said that while his organization normally uses day-parting and geo-targeting to get an optimal ROI during non-emergencies, a disaster relief effort of this magnitude calls for 24-hour advertising nationwide.

“For this campaign, we are going as wide and as far as we can,” he explained. “We get responses into the wee hours… We keep the lights on the best we can.”

World Vision also launched a display ads campaign on Google’s content ad network, as well as networks by ValueClick Media and Casale Media. In addition, the nonprofit has cut deals to run banners at MSNBC.com and FoxNews.com.

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On Wednesday morning, the organization e-mailed a campaign to 300,000 past donors and prospects. That afternoon, interestingly, Ranson and his team decided to change the SEM ads from using a $50 suggested donation to copy that asked for $25.

When they left that day, donations were at $900,000. By 9 a.m. Thursday, World Vision had passed $2.3 million. While other factors were in play, coupling this development with the ultra-successful Red Cross $10 campaign suggests that lower price entries may produce a greater return for disaster-related fundraising efforts.

Another aspect the two organizations have had in common this week is attempting to leverage social media. The Summit, NJ-based Red Cross’ brand activity via Twitter feeds has practically been nonstop.

Meanwhile, Gajadhar said she has been constantly updating World Vision’s Facebook “Fan” page and Twitter account with Haiti-related content. To heighten awareness, the nonprofit even flew in a regular Web site editorial contributor to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday to eventually make his way to Haiti to post Tweets. As of late yesterday, Strash said the writer was still making his way to Port-au-Prince, the logistically ravaged country’s capital.

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