Having grown up around local trails and the natural beauty of the great outdoors, Robert Pye was always passionate about the traditions of hunting and fishing from a young age. At the age of 12, he became a member of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), and not long after that, he landed a job with the organization right out of college.
Robert recalls that while roaming the trails as a child, his father pointed to a crest sewn onto his hunting vest and told him that if he was going to be a hunter, he had to be a member of the Federation. And so, he grew up with the Federation being a large component of his life and community.
Twenty-five years later, the self-proclaimed outdoorsman is still with the organization, working under the title of manager of business development and corporate messaging. His mission of communicating the value of fishing and hunting to the public has kept him going all these years, and he’s consistently looking for new ways to raise awareness, garner donations and increase membership to the Federation.
Exploring the world of charitable gaming
A strong sense of community is one of the Federation’s top values, which is why the initiatives they undertake are always driving towards this ultimate goal. The Federation traditionally engaged in annual grassroots lottery events. Robert had been witness to the power of email marketing campaigns, but he hadn’t explored the world of charitable gaming before.
It wasn’t until he was contacted by a member of the Ascend team that he began to consider the potential benefits of charitable gaming. He decided to take the opportunity to experiment with a new tactic, and a 50/50 game seemed like an out-of-the-box idea to fundraise, generate buzz and attract new members to the Federation.
Going virtual during the pandemic
The Federation had launched a 50/50 program in early 2020 that brought in $50,000 in the first three weeks. Robert was gearing up for the pièce de resistance of the program—a display at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show—when the pandemic put it all on pause.
Like most organizations, Robert and the Federation were forced to pivot and move their operations to a virtual setting, beginning with online charitable gaming instead of in-person events later that spring. Then, in August of 2020, they launched a new program with Ascend—Catch the Ace.
A Catch the Ace program lets a donor buy tickets to a weekly draw and then select a card from a standard 52-card deck. The selected card remains face down/unknown to the donor.
Each week, 50% of weekly sales go to the organizer and a winner is drawn. The winner then gets to reveal their chosen card for the first time. If it is any card but the Ace of Spades, the winner is awarded 20% of that week’s sales. The remaining 30% rolls over into a progressive jackpot that builds each week. Eventually, when the weekly winner reveals the Ace of Spades as their card, they win the weekly prize and the total progressive jackpot, after which a new Catch the Ace program starts.
At the time, Robert had reached a point in his career and life where he needed a professional recharge. He appreciated the energy, new ideas and teamwork he experienced with the Ascend team, especially as remote work became the norm.
Their annual paper-based lottery consumed thousands of hours of in-house staff time, across multiple departments and management desks. In contrast, the weekly Catch The Ace program was a dream to run. Massive printing, mailing and sorting was replaced with email marketing and social media promotion and advertising. Donation, sales, ticketing, tracking and the draws themselves were all managed via the Ascend platform.
Exceeding expectations with Catch the Ace
The team initially set a loose goal of raising $140,000, but after the 24-week program, they generated $1.24 million in gross ticket sales, awarded approximately $230,000 in weekly draws and hit a jackpot of almost $400,000. The grand prize winner, an out-of-work tow truck driver, received $395,000.
What’s more, thanks to an effective email marketing campaign featuring stories about the winners and paid social media advertising, 30% of Catch the Ace players were brand new to their email database, which supported a 44% year-on-year growth in online membership sales. Robert attributes this success to their commitment in using email campaigns along with social media advertising.
Each week, OFAH would email their members and show them how winners represented the organization—nice stories about good people—and expressed its case for support through the game of CTA. This message resonated strongly with their audience, driving donations as well as renewals.
OFAH also invested $1,200-$1,400 in paid media every week, which drove an average of $7,000 in new sales. That’s an over 5:1 return on investment. After prizes, fees, seeding the initial pot and accounting for the media spend, the program netted the Federation $425,000.
Throughout the program, Robert had an invaluable experience working with the Ascend team, and attributed their symbiotic relationship to be a direct contributor to the success of the campaign.
“I'm really proud that we were able to express our sincere and accurate messages of the portrayal of the conservation movement in this country, which was founded by people who fish and hunt. It was the Ascend team and our true collaboration that really made this such a pleasure.”
Realizing dreams by reaching fundraising goals
Robert believes that the marketing for Catch the Ace helped OFAH achieve branding growth as well as a significant lift in merchandise sales and membership activations—including record participation in auto renewal. It also helped them expand their reach and share the story of hunting and fishing with the world, which was a dream come true for the organization.