At the start of 2017, Feeding America – the nation’s largest hunger-relief and food rescue organization – had a lot of demographic data about a new, high-value target that a segmentation study identified. They knew this was an audience of “Kindhearted Parents,” but they still didn’t feel they had a true handle on “who” these people were and what might spark action and advocacy for Feeding America.
Feeding America needed a transformational target insight to underpin a new marketing campaign for mobilizing the public in general and these Kindhearted Parents in particular.
Specifically, they sought to better understand:
- The context around charitable giving
- How and why does charitable giving and philanthropy fit into their lives?
- How do they first become aware of causes?
- What makes them choose some issues over others?
- And how do they decide which organizations to fund within that banner cause?
- The context around the hunger issue
- What do they know (or not know) about hunger in America?
- What does hunger mean, who do they think it affects, and how does it make them feel?
- The context of the Feeding America brand
- What, if anything, is known?
- Which are the key barriers and motivators to engaging with Feeding America?
Phase One of our qualitative exploration began with one week of ethnographic-style conversations online and via video confessionals among 36 Kindhearted Parents. Respondents shared their beliefs about social issues, explained their behaviors with charitable giving, and provided eye-opening and unfiltered descriptions of who they’d expect to find at Food Pantries.
In Phase Two, we chose nine of those participants and asked them to invite two of their closest friends for a two-hour, in-home triad interview. These conversations revealed that those more prone to charitable giving choose causes that speak to both their head and the heart. We found an interplay at work where communications may trigger emotional ‘hot states,’ but informational needs about a non-profit’s operations or nagging questions on whether their actions will truly make a difference work like checks and balances before they’ll give themselves “permission” to get involved or donate.
When we focused more specifically on the issue of hunger in America with this target, we were shocked to learn what we were really up against: that hunger exists in their collective blind spot due to barriers they don’t even realize they hold, such as:
- Apathy – the issue is amorphous and daunting, so they tune it out
- Blame and Shame – assuming it’s a result of poor decisionmaking, many tend to blame those facing hunger, and put emotional distance between “us” and “them"
- Invisibility – few see the issue of hunger in America because we keep looking for the same stereotypes – but that’s not what the majority of people struggling with hunger in America actually look like
These discoveries led us to our foundational insight to mobile the public: Help our target see that when it comes to hunger in the U.S., our help and our empathy are often conditional. With that, our creative strategy was to expose hidden hunger by re-framing the issue, challenging our bias, and putting us in others’ shoes to elicit empathy.
Qualitative research brought Feeding America’s target to life in a way that challenged internal thinking and inspired the creative brief guiding their campaign. It identified a foundational insight, backed by anecdotes and evidence of the true drivers and barriers the brand was facing, with solid advice on how to proceed with the target given all that we learned; and business results followed suit.
Following the March 2018 campaign launch, an August 2018 Harris Poll showed an all-time high for Feeding America Brand Awareness, with 52% aided awareness among charitable givers aged 18-70.
Intent to support Feeding America also reached an all-time high, with 32% of charitable givers reporting an intent to donate, advocate, volunteer, or engage digitally with the brand.
What’s more, emotional connection with Feeding America showed a statistically significant increase, up 3%*.
Finally, in a year when the average Direct Marketing and Digital revenue for non-profits was down 2.7% year-over-year*, Feeding America experienced a 4.7% increase in Direct Marketing and Digital Revenue.
*Blackbaud Index of Charitable Giving – out of 9,000+ non-profits
*Feeding America brand tracking; Wave 26