Remember the old days, before Al Gore invented the Internet? Direct mail was king in the direct-response fundraising world. Then came the Web and the predictions that it would dominate all other media, making books, magazines and newspapers obsolete. And, oh yes, direct mail was on its way out.
Well, kids, here we are in 2007 and I still get The Boston Globe daily, still keep putting new books in the bookcase — and still toil over my direct-mail strategy and creative every day. So nothing’s changed, right? Not quite.
The introduction of new media and technologies has had a significant impact on how we do business. And instead of being the replacement for direct mail, the Internet is becoming a powerful partner in many direct-response fundraising programs.
The following offers a few ideas for your program — some relatively new, some tried and true, but all valuable in today’s fundraising world and, I hope, relevant to you.
Give your donors a choice on how to give
Web/mail integration is a great way to give donors more choices. Instead of thinking in terms of converting direct-mail donors to Web donors, or vice versa, let the donor decide how he or she wants to give.
One way to do this is to add an online giving option to your direct-mail letters and reply slips. Tell donors that they can give via the Web by going to a unique URL address.
The URL directs the donor not to your home page, but to a landing page that is coordinated in its design and messaging with the direct-mail package and enables the donor to make a gift online.
Some donors will give online, some will choose to respond via direct mail, and some will become donors who give via both channels over time. A recent study by Convio and StrategicOne suggests that these multi-channel donors might have a greater long-term value to your organization.
And the Web giving option could be a good way for you to bring younger donors into the fold.
Grow your own list
Conventional wisdom holds that the best e-mail list for your organization is organically grown — or compiled in-house. Ask for donors’ e-mail addresses in each direct-mail appeal. Provide them with a reason to give you the e-mail address by offering e-newsletters or other “inside information” to be disseminated electronically. Talk about how donating online saves money and reduces waste, making your mission more efficient.
The long-term goal is to build a relationship with donors via multiple channels.
Keep your branding consistent
Whether you’re communicating through the mail, Web, telephone or other medium, make the extra effort to stay consistent in your branding. The definition of “brand” that I prefer these days comes from adman Donny Deutsch, who states simply, “A brand is a set of shared values.”
This definition makes perfect sense for us in the nonprofit world. Your donors give because they share your values. They care about the same things you do, and they believe in your mission. Stay true to your core mission in all of your communications to highlight those values you share with your donor base.
It’s more than just using the right logo and tagline. It’s the essence of your message. The tone must ring true to your donors in each and every message.
Give donors a choice on what to give
Round out your donors’ giving options with special offers such as memorial/tribute gifts, planned giving and special events. Create a monthly sustainer offer for donors who give frequently, say two, three or more times per year.
Create mid-level and major-donor clubs for those who give single gifts that fit your pre-selected criteria — and invite donors who give slightly less to move up to those "giving club” levels and receive special recognition and other benefits.
Test a membership offer
Even if yours is not a membership-based program, you could have success with a package that provides a member card. If you’re not comfortable with the term “member,” call it a “supporter card” or “contributor card.”
Many organizations have been using this technique successfully for years. The membership offer provides donors with a sense of inclusion or affiliation, and provides an annualized offer that could become one of the staples of your program.
Issue a challenge
At a recent conference, I heard one of the speakers refer to a “challenge match” appeal as a “license to print money.” I can’t guarantee that will be your experience, but I must agree that the challenge match appeal seems to work for every organization with which I’ve tested it.
It doesn’t matter if the challenge fund comes from an individual, a foundation or a corporation. If it’s an individual, it isn’t even necessary to mention the person’s name. Just saying that “a generous benefactor has pledged to donate X dollars to us if we can match that amount from friends like you” is enough.
(Just be sure to resist the temptation to issue a statement about an anonymous benefactor if there is, in reality, no such person. Bad idea that could get you in trouble all over the place.)
Donors like the idea of their gift doubling in value, and supporting twice as much work toward your mission. It’s kind of like a two-for-one sale.
Vary themes within your program
In addition to the specific types of appeals mentioned above, I like to create branded appeals that give each mailing a unique identity while staying consistent with the organization’s overall brand. These appeals are like brands within the brand, and can be as simple as annual fund, winter appeal, spring appeal, etc. The branded appeal also can tie in with your core mission, such as “Fall Research Appeal” for a health charity or “Beds and Blankets Appeal” for a homeless shelter.
Remember to remind
Yes, we’ve been doing them forever, but reminders still are a powerful way to leverage your most effective appeals. If you do an annual fund in January, send out an annual fund follow-up in February — within two to four weeks of the original appeal.
The follow-up mailing can employ a smaller, less expensive format than the prior mailing, and could generate up to 70 percent or 80 percent of the original.
Personalize but don’t patronize
Most organizations have effectively employed personalization techniques to use the donor’s name, giving history, city and state within the text of a letter. But sometimes we end up hitting donors over the head with it. Donors are savvy enough to know that computers, not people, provide this personalization, so don’t overdo it.
Remember to do the things that truly make your mailing sound personal. Speak in a conversational me-to-you manner, avoid the institutional “we” and tell donors in specific terms what their gifts are helping you do.
‘Keep the layouts simple and the ideas fancy’
Seasoned adman Steve Cosmopo-ulous used to say this to make his creative staff focus on the big idea instead of the window dressing: “The job of creative is to create revenue — not beauty.” Of course, if you can increase revenue and win the beauty contest at the same time, more power to you.
To tease or not to tease?
Teasers on the outer envelope work best when they contain a benefit, refer directly to the offer, or tell the donor about the free gift or member card inside. Teasers that are there just to be clever can be tricky. Your copy must be extremely provocative for this kind of teaser to work, and the best way to prove it is by testing.
I also like to test “blind” outer envelopes — plain ones with no logo, no teaser — especially in acquisition and for organizations that do not have great name recognition. Be wary of postage requirements, however. Historically, these have been acceptable as long as you use metered postage, but get postal approval ahead of time.
Be careful with inserts
Always test your packages with and without that great new insert you’re considering. Newspaper articles, brochures, lift notes and the like might provide great additional information about your mission — but they also might depress response. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s been all too true for me many, many times.