Case Study

Catholic Relief Services

Challenge: How do you turn one-time engagement at a local event into an ongoing connection?

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international Catholic relief and development agency in the United States, works to help poor and vulnerable people around the globe overcome emergencies, earn a living through agriculture, and access affordable health care and education. During Lent, CRS stages their “Rice Bowl” program, which encourages families and faith communities to think about and pray for people in need worldwide.

As part of Rice Bowl, CRS brings speakers from around the world to Catholic high schools and local parishes, to give audiences a sense of what life is like for those struggling in far-away countries. Students and parishioners leave the Rice Bowl events inspired by the organization’s mission, and CRS wanted to build long-term connections around faith and action.

But how could CRS keep in touch with Rice Bowl attendees?  They tried distributing paper sign-up cards at events, but in 2016, only 13 of the cards were filled out.

CRS wanted to find a simple way to stay connected with event attendees.

Solution: A mobile messaging campaign makes it simple to connect

“The speaker tour needed to evolve with our audiences and the ways that they’re connecting,” said Phoebe Heibeck, a program coordinator at CRS.  “One day I got a text message from Chipotle.  And I thought, maybe that’s the answer.”

Working with one of Rice Bowl’s speakers – Thomas Awiapo from Ghana – Heibeck launched a pilot program to test a mobile messaging campaign.  At speaking events in two of CRS’ five regions, a staff member would invite attendees to join the campaign.

“We would say, ‘you’ve heard this amazing story about what CRS Rice bowl is doing. If you’re interested in staying connected to our speaker and also learning more about the Rice Bowl program, you can text RICE BOWL to 30644.”

When people joined the campaign, CRS made sure the mobile messages were connected to the mission of Rice Bowl – and even to the specific speaker that subscribers saw.  After an initial welcome message, for example, subscribers are engaged around Rice Bowl’s core issues:

“Hello – ready for a challenge? I challenge you to go meatless an extra day this week to encounter with those who have so little.  Check out these delicious simple recipes for inspiration from our featured CRS Rice Bowl countries:  My favorite is Arroz Rojo! – Thomas@CRS”

CRS then sent follow-up messages every 7 days throughout Lent to keep their new subscribers engaged.

Results: Hundreds of Signups – A 4,100% Improvement – And That’s Just the Beginning

535 people signed up as part of the text messaging pilot program. Those signups came over just 28 events in only two of CRS’ five regions. That’s still 4,100% more signups than they had the previous year.

Moving forward, CRS has plans to expand the text messaging pilot to all of its regions, and to integrate social media into the campaign as well.

“The impact the speaker tour makes isn’t something that can be measured,” said Heibeck. “We’re building a connection and sharing the story of what CRS does. But expanding the text messaging program should lead to more engagement and a more successful Rice Bowl program. I’m so excited and enthusiastic about this platform, that we’re now incorporating it into even more outreach.”

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