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Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières)

The Challenge

Create an attention-grabbing fundraising campaign across channels that would help a global nonprofit raise millions more in 2021, even after a record setting fundraising 2020.

The Insight

A single, cohesive creative theme across channels can help differentiate your campaign and garner more support.

The Solution

A standout, six-week activation that raised 31% more than year-end campaigns in 2020.

2020 was an outlier fundraising year for many humanitarian organizations, especially during the year-end giving season.

That was certainly the case for our partner Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), one of the organizations out on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, MSF’s end-of-year fundraising returns on digital had far outpaced any prior year.

But when the time came to plan for 2021 year-end fundraising, the national mood was much different: COVID fatigue (and giving fatigue) were very strong realities for millions of donors. Blue State was tasked with helping MSF keep up 2020’s fundraising performance despite this hurdle. 

To inspire donors to maintain 2020 levels of generosity in 2021, MSF needed to communicate the urgency of this moment for global health – not just due to COVID-19 but many compounding crises worldwide. We designed a creative year-end campaign theme that would span all channels throughout the last six weeks of the year.  

The value of a theme

Nonprofits don’t often rely on a creative theme during key fundraising moments, perhaps due to tight budgets and time constraints. On the very long list of what nonprofits need to accomplish, building out a creative concept across channels is easily deprioritized. Yet, when done right, it offers powerful branding and messaging that helps an organization stand out and succeed in crowded markets. 

We offered three campaign concepts to MSF to show a breadth of possibilities. The client liked two campaign ideas enough to let donors decide via in-market testing. 

Across testing platforms, the theme “Minutes Matter” came out on top. This campaign drove stronger brand favorability and donation likelihood overall, and it’s what we moved forward with for their year-end campaign. 

The making of “Minutes Matter”

This was the first year that MSF ran its year-end fundraising campaign under a unified creative theme. This meant that across email, web, paid social, display, native advertising, video and more, donors and prospective donors were getting a surround-sound experience, driving them to donate. 

Our content and design teams got to work to create compelling and engaging messaging and visuals that would serve as the basis for the campaign. 

To evoke a sense of urgency with the design elements, our team leveraged a high-contrast palette with bright pops of red as well as powerful action photos of MSF staff and patients in the field.

Motion graphics like analog clocks and countdowns were used to create a visceral feeling of time running out.

Sourcing these types of photos was an intentional choice – to clearly depict the high stakes of the work MSF was doing and the realities unfolding around the world. 

Our team also introduced a campaign lockup – which served as a valuable asset across channels to boost recognition and create a sense of cohesion. We designed a title treatment that depicted an abstracted spinning clock that caught the supporter’s eye during the heaviest nonprofit fundraising period of the year.

"Minutes matter when lives are on the line." Analog clock gif above an image of a doctor helping a patient on a gurney.

We collaborated closely with media agency Chong + Koster to execute the “Minutes Matter” campaign across all paid channels. So in addition to email, social, and website content, the campaign included a takeover on New York Times’ website, branded advertorial content in The New Yorker and The Guardian, a TV spot on Samsung TV, and creative placements like a sponsorship of Boingo WiFi across US airports. 

Exceeding expectations

The “Minutes Matter” campaign ran for six weeks straight and every touchpoint – whether a fundraising ask or a cultivation message – helped to build momentum and garner more supporters. 

In a year when MSF was worried about matching the successes of 2020’s year-end season, we raised 22% more revenue across all digital. On email alone, we raised more than $2 million during the last two days of the year.  

The lesson was clear: When the proper investment is made, creative campaigns with emotional resonance and a cohesive theme pay off. 


  • 60% increase in paid media reach YoY
  • 40% more gifts driven by email YoY
  • 36% increase of average gift size on website
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