Optimizing your marketing strategy to improve outreach

Dec 14, 2017
Optimizing your marketing strategy to improve outreach


The Leukemia Research Foundation (LRF) was founded in 1946 in memory of Sherwin Pessin who died from the disease at age 12. With no cure available at that time, and no promise in the pipeline, Sherwin’s family set about raising money to fund research into leukemia. Seventy years on, the LRF has raised more than $70 million in pursuit of the cure.

The Foundation’s charge is to conquer all blood cancers by funding research into their causes and cures, providing a patient financial assistance program, and delivering patient and family education. Organizations like LRF have helped ensure the five-year survival rate for all types of leukemia combined is now around 50% and nearly 90% for childhood leukemia.

Today, digital technology is changing the very nature of fundraising while simultaneously offering huge opportunities. In a time of shrinking government aid, the challenge for all non-profits is how to both engage with potential donors by differentiating themselves and make best use of evolving digital channels and platforms. LRF has adopted an evolutionary approach: to change, become more adaptable and aggressively pursue new marketing opportunities.


Effective communication with potential and existing supporters is, of course, one of LRF’s most powerful tools in attracting donations. With only seven full-time members of staff, the need for prompt attention to content marketing can be an overwhelming task, but with new platforms and technologies changing donor preferences, it became increasingly necessary to re-examine and update, LRF’s outreach strategy.

Our branding message had to be clear and concise to make it easy for supporters to find us. In addition, we needed to use different ways to engage supporters from multiple demographic groups and with ages ranging from teens to 70-year-olds; we needed to make medical research tangible to people; relate to people at different life stages; and carefully manage the frequency of our messaging so supporters wouldn’t become overwhelmed and opt out.

An enhanced digital platform was seen as the key to ensuring better engagement with our supporters.


Our new marketing approach is to rely heavily on graphics, research advances and storytelling. At the same time, we maximized our website and made it mobile friendly. We replaced our print newsletter with an online version. We are active in social media, posting survival stories, facts, and research in the field several times a week. And with more and more donations being made online, a new, online, back office ‘giving’ platform has ensured a more intuitive process, making it possible for donors to make seamless online donations, while at the same time cutting down on internal administration.

Change is incremental. Our next step is to apply new technology to our donor database management system, which will allow us to create better relationships with supporters on the system. In the future, data gathering will not only be easier, but it should be possible to segment our mailings so that our follow-up messaging can be targeted at a donor’s particular interest, such as our research, or our support, program.

Our primary focus is currently on major gifts and planned giving, so a more personalized engagement will allow us to communicate with those who have a strong affinity with our cause and a high net worth. It will also help us avoid possible opt out through hitting people with the same information.


Measuring the success of our new marketing strategy is a work in progress. Initially, our focus is on fundraising – measuring the number of people we are speaking to through personal meetings, emails and phone calls – so we can meet our two core responsibilities: patient programs and research funding.

We are also utilizing social media analytics to understand people’s views, and then amplify and be part of that message. As an example, we’ve engaged with initiatives such as #GivingTuesday (“the day to do good stuff for charity”), using their marketing tools to encourage people to take pictures and put them on their Facebook page using a specific hashtag. We can then track them, and determine whether we are getting increased engagement.

Hints and tips

In a nonprofit organization, everyone needs to be on the same page, understand what we’re all trying to communicate, and let that be the filter. A non-profit organization has to be consistent, otherwise, people won’t identify your message with you and differentiate you. In addition, you have to be ready and adaptive to change, wear many hats and stay on top of ever-emerging changes on the digital landscape. If you don’t like change and can’t tolerate pressure the nonprofit world is not for you.

Optimizing your marketing strategy to improve outreach


Kevin has served as the Executive Director of the Leukemia Research Foundation (LRF) since January 2004.  His executive level, nonprofit experience includes Board administration and support; program and service delivery; financial, tax, risk, and facilities management; human resources management; community and public relations; and fundraising. Previously, Kevin served ten years on staff at Special Olympics Illinois including seven years as Vice President of Marketing & Development.  Prior to that, he worked for over a decade in the sports industry holding marketing, communications, and event management positions in the NBA, NFL, and with two private sports marketing agencies.

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