2012 DMFA Acquisition Package of the Year: Covenant House Paint Can Appeal
[Editor's note: Last month, the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA) held its annual Package of the Year Awards luncheon to honor the winning packages. Through the end of the year, FundRaising Success will highlight some of the winners here in Today in Fundraising.]
Right from the onset, Convenant House established a goal to acquire true mission donors. To do that, Father Bruce Ritter, founder of the nonprofit dedicated to serving and protecting homeless children, made it a point of emphasis to talk about people, no programs, in all fundraising appeals with the goal to engage prospects through love stories. The idea was to let prospects see, feel and hear the child in need.
"The goal was to connect with the prospect's emotions, and then sell the cause later," says Tom Gaffny, principal of Tom Gaffny Consulting, who worked on the package along with Wilson & Associates.
Over the years, Covenant House tested hundreds of stories about the homeless children it has helped. In the early 1980s, the organization decided to collect all of the stories in a book and mail it as a premium in acquisition — a premium that truly connects prospects emotionally to the mission. Then in 1991, a girl came to Covenant House holding a paint can containing her mother's ashes, a heart-wrenching story that represents everything Covenant House stands for. Thus, the "paint can" acquisition package was born, with the letter relaying the story of this young girl and the book included as a premium.
It became the control acquisition package shortly thereafter, and this year, after being revived in 2011, it was honored as the 2012 DMFA Acquisition Package of the Year.
The outer is just a plain manilla 6-inch-by-9-inch envelope with the Covenant House logo and return address information and a small window. Inside is the book premium, "Sometimes God Has a Kid's Face," by Sister Mary Rose McGeady; a lift note; a reply device with a call-out to the book and a copy of the "Prayer of st. Francis of Assisi"; and the four-page paint can letter, which begins:
"She came to our front door on a Tuesday morning, dressed in dirty rags, holding a little aluminum paint can in her arms.
"From the second she stepped inside our shelter, she mystified us. Whatever she did, wherever she went, the paint can never left her hands."
It goes on to describe that in the paint can were the ashes of the girl's mother, emotionally engaging prospects.
The the letter was first tested to Covenant House's donors 20 years ago, and the response was off the charts. In the early 1990's it tested the letter to prospects, and it became the control acquisition package. Over the years, Covenant House "tested every element 50 times," Gaffny says. It stood as the control for nearly a decade, but then in 2000 it was beaten by another premium package.
Always looking to beat the control, Covenant House decided to test it again in 2011. It told the same paint can story as the package from the '90s, but let prospects know the story happened many years ago. As it turns out, the paint can package made its triumphant return, becoming the control once again, testing the mission-based appeal of the book with the paint can letter package against high-end premium packages.
In the end, the paint can package with the book premium had a response rate around 1.1 percent to 1.2 percent with a significantly less expensive cost per package than the high-end premium versions, making it the control once more. And Covenant House continues to test ever element, such as the book mailed with a dime and a penny as well, which increased the response rate by 42 percent — however, it also increased the cost per thousand by 24 percent.
"We always look at the back end and the front end for ways to improve and/or beat the package," says Lisa Wilson, president of Wilson & Associates.
While testing contiues to be underway, it's clear that even a story as old as 20 years can still bring in new donors as long as it's timeless, emotionally engaging and mission-centric.
Related story: Quotes From the DMFA Package of the Year Awards Luncheon