It’s all in the genes

Easter Seals is testing people's DNA in an unorthodox peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Upfront - Giving GeneSM

This story appears in the April 2018 issue of strategy.

Altruism, ambidexterity and arachnophobia all have one thing in common: genetics. They’re skills, traits and even fears inherited from our ancestors, right next to the blue eyes and freckles from mom/dad.

But the “giving gene,” in particular, is what the Easter Seals is interested in capturing as it looks to attract new donors (beyond its roughly 40- to 50-year-old core demo) with a modern cause campaign that reimagines traditional peer-to-peer fundraising.

After stumbling upon an Oxford study that shows evidence that the COMT Val 158Met polymorphism gene contributes to a person’s likelihood for altruism, J. Walter Thompson Canada proposed the idea to sell gene-testing kits to drive donations. (According to the study, people can inherit one, two or no copies of the gene. The more copies of the gene, the more inclined that person is to give.)

The “Giving Gene” kit, which launched in early March on, includes a postage paid return envelope, instructional brochure and information about how Easter Seals is helping those living with disabilities. The kit’s cotton swab can be mailed to a team of geneticists to be processed, and a user can track their DNA and test results on the Easter Seals website.

“Around 70% of Canadians are aware of Easter Seals by name only, but don’t know what the charity stands for or who they help,” explains Ari Elkouby, VP and CD at JWT. He says the charity has been exploring unconventional fundraising tactics (like getting people to raise money by scaling a skyscraper in a “DropZone” event) to increase that awareness.

Giving people something in return for their $70 donation (the cost of the kit) creates an appealing value exchange for the org’s target of socially conscious adults aged 18 to 34, Elkouby says. And even if test results come back negative for the “giving gene,” he adds, the act of purchasing the kit from the charity helps relieve any feelings of self-reproach.