Letters to the Editor
A changing of the guard can be a good time to revamp your direct-mail packages. When Covenant House International brought a new president on board in fall 2003, it needed to change its acquisition packages, which contained a letter signed by the previous president.
The international childcare agency took this opportunity to test a few other ideas in its Spanish-language acqui-sition campaign — namely the premium it was using.
Sure, e-philanthropy is hot, but most nonprofit organizations still rely on direct mail as their fundraising workhorses. And the outer envelope is the wrapper for your all-important ask. It’s the first thing recipients see, feel and interact with.
As such, it requires a well- reasoned strategy that depends a lot on an organization’s mission, target audience and competition in the mail. Something that works for an advocacy group might not be right for a health organization. One thing that worked 10 years ago might still fly, while another favorite tactic could flop. It’s a testing game for each organization.
For years, Washington, D.C.-based The Humane Society of the United States ignored the Internet’s full potential to reach donors and supporters.
Here’s the situation we found ourselves in: HSUS’ Web site in April 2003 had been transferred to its third department in five years. While the site was graphically appealing and content rich, it ran on proprietary software developed by a company that no longer was in business.
In fall 2002, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, which each year sees 1.4 million visitors pass through its gates and mails close to a million direct-mail appeals, felt the need for a direct-mail face lift.
The membership appeal the zoo had been mailing was a two-color effort, with a photo on the carrier of a little girl giggling as a chimpanzee looks back at her through a window.
You would think that after a hundred years, a nonprofit could kick back a bit and maybe even rest on its laurels. After all, it’s been there, done that — right?
Not necessarily so, says Kurt Aschermann, senior vice president and chief marketing and development officer of Atlanta-based Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which was founded in Boston in 1906.
A professor stood before his class, picked up a large jar and filled it with golf balls. He asked his students if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
Then he poured pebbles into the jar. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. Again he asked if the jar was full, and the students responded, “Yes.” Next he poured sand into the jar, and it filled up everything else. Again he asked the students if the jar was full, and they said, “Yes.”
I’ve heard the explanation so many times now that I’m sick of it. It goes something like this: “When our direct-mail donors give more than $1,000 in a single year, we move them out of the regular mail program and over to the upper-level or even the major-donor program. They deserve special treatment.”
The dollar threshold might be different from organization to organization, but the underlying thinking is the same: Once donors reach a certain giving level, they need to be “protected” from the regular direct-mail appeal program.
Life as a PBS station is a tough gig. Providing much-needed programming related to news, history, the arts and education made possible by hard-won donor support, public broadcasting easily can be taken for granted amid the mass of television channels available today.