Suicide gets the Action it Deserves

Suicide gets the Action it Deserves

James Herlihy, who worked with Lifeline on its two-step suicide prevention campaign, reveals the secrets to its success – and its great fundraising outcomes.
While suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44, it hasn’t always received the attention it needs – either in policy or in public discourse. Times, however, are slowly changing, with media and governments focusing more on the need for mental health and suicide prevention programs.

Lifeline’s suicide prevention two-step campaign, which was launched in March 2016 with Pareto Fundraising, has played a role in pushing for that change – and it’s delivered some pretty good fundraising outcomes too.
Thirteen months later, with the campaign wrapping up, we want to share some results and insights.


How it worked

Step 1
This comprised an online petition calling on the Australian government to increase funding for suicide prevention. The petition was promoted to new audiences via a mix of paid and organic social media communications with a focus on Facebook, the winning channel for lead acquisition, and Instagram. 

Step 2
Those petition signers who opted in were taken on an integrated fundraising conversion journey involving telephone conversion, an automated email stream and remarketed advertising.


At the beginning of May, with phone calling still going, Lifeline had acquired just under a thousand regular givers, at a cost of $344 per regular giver, plus 724 cash gifts totalling almost $50,000. Early attrition rates for the two-step acquired donors are proving to be lower than those from other channels like face-to-face.

Crucially, on top of this, Lifeline acquired tens of thousands of new supporters who are engaged with its mission. We know from previous experience that so long as these people are kept engaged and given compelling opportunities to donate, many more will become donors in subsequent months and years, so there’s also future income here.

But the results aren’t just financial. Public support through this campaign has helped achieve the recent announcement of the development of Australia’s first suicide prevention plan and several new government-funded suicide prevention trial sites across New South Wales. It has also helped Lifeline to secure $2.5 million for a new crisis SMS support service.

“The campaign helped to deliver a spike in Lifeline volunteer interest, and broad, active exposure for the Lifeline brand and new CEO Peter Shmigel,” says Julie Kirby, Lifeline’s Individual Giving Manager. “We James Herlihy, who worked with Lifeline on its two-step suicide prevention campaign, reveals the secrets to its success – and its great fundraising outcomes. also uncovered new leads for case studies that will support our fundraising and communications efforts far into the future. And we gained a lot of valuable, personal information about supporters through their online engagement.”

Shmigel says the campaign momentum and subsequent government attention helped to develop some key ministerial relationships and further Lifeline’s public policy agenda. These were great results from a viable new acquisition channel for Lifeline. So what made it work?


Factors for success

Strong proposition and motivators
The calls on the Australian government to increase suicide prevention funding in line with other funding areas presents a strong theory of change. The government can solve the problem and is accountable to constituents (the campaign audience). Funding allocation is also an ‘easy get’ for the audience, and so they feel that taking this action really will help solve the problem. Underlying this, important motivators are at play: relevance, self-interest and agitation for change.

Frequent media coverage and public conversation about mental health reflect the issues’ relevance to Australians today. With a highly relevant and ‘present’ issue, people are prepared to respond when presented with a tangible action they can take to help. Of course, the issue of suicide is shockingly relevant to Australian communities directly impacted by it. These communities have a strong interest in solving the problem, and a driving need for their tragic experience to be heard and acted upon by policymakers.

Lastly, dissonance between what the government could do and what it is doing creates a space where we can build agitation for change and mobilise it through our petition.


Awesome creative
We didn’t have a super rich range of visual assets to work with, however a simple focus on real individuals, strong info-graphics and hard-working copy delivered the results. While avoiding disrespect to the government (which funds some Lifeline programs), the messaging pulled no punches and drove home the issue’s importance, with tactics like:
• framing a ‘national suicide emergency’
• key facts (for example, suicide is the leading cause of death for 15- to 44-year-olds and comparisons to other funded program areas) high up in copy with the text emphasised
• highlighting unfulfilled government commitments, and how readers pushing for their fulfilment provides an opportunity for solving the problem.

The first few words of every creative asset need to strike hard in digital campaigns. Toning down impactful language is the enemy of direct response – especially on busy social news feeds and web pages already saturated with marketing messages.


Committed campaigning
Ever feel like other teams aren’t on board with your efforts to fund your organisation’s work? Can’t get space in comms schedules? Communications team blocks your messaging? Your CEO or a board member just doesn’t like something? Not so in this case at Lifeline. Genuine adoption from the CEO to the supporter relations, media and communications teams meant this was a real all-of-organisation effort. It earned more free press, had a solid presence on the organisational website and other channels, and integrated tightly to support direct government advocacy. This is what we call ‘committed campaigning’. It delivers better results and supports a more collaborative culture amongst teams.


Tight channel integration
There are many moving parts to a campaign involving social media, display network advertising, web pages, email campaigns and journeys, phone calling, search and more. Amongst these, there’s ample opportunity for poor user experience if your channels don’t support each other, your creative doesn’t sing from the same book and your supporter journey isn’t mapped out in detail and executed well.

Good integration delivered solid results for this campaign. For example, a tight working relationship and data sharing arrangements between the digital and phone agencies meant that petition signers were called speedily (while still engaged with the campaign), call scripts aligned well with the experience they’d had, and an 8% plus phone conversion rate was maintained throughout the campaign.


Responsiveness and opportunism
Digital campaigns are living things that thrive when kept agile and responsive to real world events and opportunities. One such opportunity occurred on Thursday 16 March 2017, when we discovered Lifeline had secured a meeting between its CEO and Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, on the following Monday.

We were at 135,000 signatures, and wanted to reach the 150,000 target for presentation to Minister Hunt, so we jumped into production, crunching out social content and an email to petition signers asking them to share again. The content focused heavily on the moment – the 150,000 target and the opportunity to present it in discussion with the Federal Health Minister.

Those communications helped us exceed the 150,000 target by Monday, meaning we achieved 10% of the whole 12 months’ worth of signatures in just three days – as illustrated in the graphic above. This is the power of mobilising online communities around a real moment.


You can do it!
All nonprofits can use digital channels to build community, generate leads and develop donor relationships. From surveys and quizzes to petitions, pledges, polls, send-a-message actions, value exchanges etc, the possibilities for action and proposition are endless.

All you need is the organisational buyin, investment and a bit of support. The rewards – in terms of community growth, donor acquisition and funding to advance your goals – can be great.

Sign the petition at Contact to find out more about how a two-step campaign could work for your cause.


James Herlihy
James is the Digital Strategist at Pareto Fundraising. He has spent more than a decade campaigning with nonprofits and is the brains behind groundbreaking digital campaigns for dogs, dolphins, humans, rights, reefs and more.

This article was first published in Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine 2017