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How one nonprofit is tackling mental health

According to RKD’s 2023 study Solid Gold: The Nonprofit Marketer's Guide to Trust, organizations serving military and veteran communities rank as some of the most trusted nonprofits in the nation.

What builds this trust? Being honest and open are critical factors to building trust with donors. 

There are many ways veteran and military groups are honest and open with their constituents. Lately, that includes tackling a challenging topic that may leave some donors feeling uneasy: Mental health. 

Changing attitudes toward mental health 

Until recently, discussing mental health issues was seen as a sign of weakness. But a rise in prevalence in anxiety and depression—a recent Gallup survey found that 29% of adults have been diagnosed with depression at some point (up from 19.6% in 2015)—has started to open conversations and support for mental health services. 

Veteran and military groups aren’t immune either—a recent study found that 43% of veterans experienced mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive disorders or substance abuse.  

But lately, the wider recognition of mental health as a real public issue has opened up conversations among military groups, giving them much-needed attention and access to resources. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has even released new PSAs for their ongoing campaign “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.” that encourages veterans to speak up and seek help.  

While significant strides have been made, tackling this challenging subject in a fundraising campaign can be a struggle for many nonprofit organizations. 

Here’s how the Coast Guard Foundation is speaking about it in a way that connects—and builds trust—with donors: 

Coast Guard Foundation tackles mental resilience 

The Coast Guard Foundation found that many Coast Guard members were struggling with anxiety, depression, relationship challenges and other mental health-related problems due to the strain their jobs put on them each day. 

Although unsure how donors would respond, Coast Guard Foundation knew they needed more awareness and support around their mental health initiatives.  

To address this, we worked together to craft and add a new campaign centered around mental resilience to their communication calendar. The messaging told stories of the many challenging and traumatizing things Coast Guard members see on a regular basis and the toll it can take not only on their mental health, but on their families as well. 

Because this was such a heavy topic, we knew the messaging needed to end on a positive note, highlighting solutions like the Coast Guard Foundation programs that support the Coast Guard Chaplain Program, Shipmate Support Peer Training, resilience workshops, marriage retreats and other wellness initiatives.  

It closed by inviting donors to be a part of the solution by supporting the programming and giving resources to people who put their lives on the line for us every day.  

The multichannel campaign went live in August 2023, with surround-sound efforts in direct mail, digital media, email, website features and a dedicated donation form throughout the month. 

CGF Full Campaign

The emphasis on the importance of mental resilience paid off.  

The new campaign brought in more than $112,000 in unplanned revenue toward much-needed mental health resources for Coast Guard members and their families and will become a regular addition to their messaging and communications. 

By tackling difficult subjects like mental health—and sharing the solutions it takes to make real change—it's no wonder veteran and military-focused organizations are some of the most trusted nonprofits in the industry. 

Cara Marinelli

As Vice President, Client Strategy, at RKD Group, Cara is a fixture of leadership, providing innovative direct mail, online, phone, research, major gifts and planned giving strategies for clients. Her proven ability to optimize these fundraising disciplines ensure that nonprofits meet or exceed their fundraising goals. A direct marketing veteran, Cara has fundraising experience in multiple different verticals that span hospital, health and disease, relief and development and many more.

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