And the Winners Are …
It was a big year for the Gold Awards, folks! First off, we switched up the way we conducted the judging. Rather than having a handful of judges join us in our Philadelphia office for a day of debating, noshing and judging, this year we went electronic and had a somewhat larger handful of judges do their work remotely. Everyone got scans of the entries, and the judges were encouraged to communicate by phone or e-mail to compare notes. Granted, we missed the on-site camaraderie — and the bagels — but doing things this way allowed us to include more judges from across the country.
And 2010 marked the year with the largest number of entries to date. All told, the 108 submissions represented 15 nonprofit organizations and 30 agencies. We're thrilled, and want to say congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone who participated. FundRaising Success appreciates your continued interest and support. We especially want to thank our intrepid judges: Paul Bobnak, director of the Who's Mailing What! Archive; Joe Boland, FundRaising Success senior editor; Steve Froehlich, vice president, direct response development, ASPCA; Steve Kehrli, development director, PETA; Kimberly Seville, creative consultant and freelance copywriter; Dave Stuart, head of new business development, Russ Reid; and Scott Swedenburg, president, Mail Enterprises. We're so happy to see the Gold Awards growing, and we hope that you enjoy reading about and learning from the results as much as we enjoy bringing them to you.
CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR
Submitted by DaVinci Direct
Also Gold Award winner DIRECT MAIL: RENEWAL (fewer than 50,000 mailed)
• The Numbers
Income Generated: $271,507
Average Gift: $227.20
Out-of-Pocket Costs: $5,794
Response Rate: 36.44 percent
Cost to Raise a Dollar: $0.021
Every year at awards time, the FundRaising Success offices fill up with tons of entries, many of which are bursting with inserts and offers, and offering a pleasantly tactile "puffy" quotient. This year was no exception.
But it was a classically simple mailing from The Muscular Dystrophy Association that took best of show — and handily, at that. The Research Leaders package was intended to revitalize the organization's relationship with $100-and-up donors and attract them to MDA's mid-level donor society.
The sexiest element of this four-piece mailing is a fairly standard-looking membership card affixed to a two-sided letter. The letter, signed by Jerry Lewis, is heartfelt. The mailing's simplicity and its ivory/burgundy color scheme add a distinct touch of class befitting the higher-level donors it wants to attract.
What else did the judges like? Pretty much everything.
"This package is direct-mail fundraising at its best," Gold Awards judge Joe Boland remarks. "It uses the best practices of personalization on everything from the letter to the insert to the reply device, basing the ask on giving history and offering the chance to increase donations. More importantly, the copy is a picture-perfect example of how fundraising letters should read. Throughout, the letter stresses how you, the donor, are needed, what your money will do, how MDA needs to rely on you. And it tugs on the emotional heartstrings with the story of Abbey — another best practice.
"Beyond that," he adds, "the letter does a great job offering the premium for those below a certain giving level to encourage a larger gift, and a freemium for those that already give at that mark. The insert about the membership continues the theme of making it all about the donor, discussing how 'YOU Can Fight Muscular Dystrophy,' talking about 'someone you know,' and recognizing 'your leadership.'"
And since at the end of the day results are what define a winning fundraising campaign, a lot was riding on this package. But it didn't disappoint.
The package mailed to 3,279 donors who had made one or more gifts of $100 or more in the previous 12 months. It raised $271,507 with a 36.44 percent overall response rate, and generated an average gift of $227.20.
And beyond the campaign's initial success, it continues to bolster MDA's fundraising, according to Steve Maggio, president of DaVinci Direct.
"During the course of the year, Research Leaders receive several other MDA appeals, which are the same packages that nonjoiners at the $100-plus level receive, except that we acknowledge their status as Research Leaders in the laser copy," Maggio explains.
"We found that the average income per donor was higher for Research Leaders than for other $100-plus donors in every single mailing throughout the course of the year," he adds. "The average Research Leader gave twice as much as nonjoiners in a two-year period."
Gold Awards judge Scott Swedenburg concludes, "The results for this package are phenomenal, which is ultimately the true test of a package's success."
Oh, and the cost to raise a dollar on this fabulous-by-anyone's-standard package? Just slightly more then 2 cents.
DIRECT MAIL: ACQUISITION (50,000 or more mailed)
2009 Tell Your Story Acquisition Mailing
Submitted by The Lukens Co.
• The Numbers
Total Income Generated: $189,958.58
Average Gift: $94.46
Cost to Raise a Dollar: $0.34
Total Out-of-Pocket Costs: $65,019.94
Response Rate: 2.16 percent
So the economy is in a downturn, and your organization is erecting a new building. To add to that, you haven't done a mailing in years, so you have no idea what kind of approach is going to resonate or with whom. And of course, there's also no basis on which to set your projected metrics.
That was the challenge the National Museum of American Jewish History was facing last year when it launched this campaign. And to make that challenge even more challenging, its new building was still under construction while its current home didn't have any active exhibit space, so a "real" benefits offer was out of the question.
"It was a real paradigm shift," explains The Lukens Co.'s Hilary Baar. "We offered an exclusive category, Founding Member, that was tied to a purely philanthropic ask (as opposed to a membership benefits program)."
This tight mailing's outer evokes the images of famous Jewish Americans (including Bob Dylan and Sandy Koufax, among others), with the words "It's their story … " included among the photos, and " … it's your story" running across the bottom — a masterful design that immediately creates a sense of fellowship and belonging. A colorful trifold brochure spotlighting a stunning rendering of the new building accompanies the letter, carries that theme inside, and offers a menu of benefits and premiums, as well as more information about the museum.
"The copy throughout this package is really, really well-written, and each one of the letter's four pages is all about the offer and building rapport with the potential donor — a win-win combo," says Gold Awards judge Kimberly Seville, who gave the package a perfect score. "The 'Can I include your name … and keep your story alive' lead in the letter is perfect, and it's reinforced throughout the package.
"Beside the lapel pin, membership card, signed print and DVD collection back-end offers," she says, "the naming opportunity is the real heart of the museum's offer, and it's irresistible — especially when presented so well."
The most important part of the package, Baar says, was deciding to whom it should be sent, noting that the new donation model (as opposed to membership benefits) allowed the museum to think outside of its immediate 'hood — Philadelphia — and attempt to gain supporters on a national level. So the mailing was divided into two segments: primary (Philadelphia area) and national.
"The primary segment definitely pulled strongly with a response rate of 3.15 percent," Baar says. "However, the national response shattered all of our projections, coming in at a whopping 1.27 percent — on a cold acquisition! And the ROI on the national market was 131 percent. Once all the responses were accounted for, NMAJH doubled its membership from 2,000 to 4,000 with this one mailing."
Seville concludes: "The museum's unanticipated 'whopping' response nationally, not just in the Philly area, is very much deserved. This package is a swipe file keeper!"
DIRECT MAIL: ACQUISITION (fewer than 50,000 mailed)
Trash Poster Test
Submitted by Mal Warwick Associates
• The Numbers
Total Income Generated: $4,332
Average Gift: $22.51
Cost to Raise a Dollar: $2.73
Total Out-of-Pocket Costs: $11,810
Response Rate: 0.8 percent
Oh look, the Ocean Conservancy has sent you a sturdy poster of an adorable sea creature … that is most likely dying because of the choke hold a piece of blue netting has on it.
There's no denying the shock value of this piece, which is probably why it knocked the socks off the control, upping the average gift by 14 percent, and became a cornerstone package in the OC's membership acquisition program.
According to Peter Schoewe, senior account executive at Mal Warwick Associates, the OC hoped this campaign — where the poster also serves as the outer and holds a bare-bones amount of inserts — would solve two separate problems.
"We wanted to acquire new Ocean Conservancy members around a core element of its mission — reducing the amount of trash and debris entering the ocean and killing wildlife," Schoewe explains. "However, we knew from prior house appeals that Ocean Conservancy's efforts to reduce trash and pollution were not particularly inspiring to its donors.
"The second challenge was that we needed to figure out a way to acquire more donors without the use of premiums such as a plush toy or calendar," he adds. "These types of acquisition packages, while producing a high response rate, did not result in the type of high-value members that Ocean Conservancy needed to grow both net revenue and its pool of donor prospects."
Overall, our judges conceded that the numbers aren't remarkable, especially considering the 0.8 percent response rate and cost of $2.73 to raise a dollar. But they agreed that this mailing met its intended goals and would generate more engaged, more loyal and higher-lifetime-value donors.
Make no mistake, this mailing is like a punch in the gut. The vivid and heartbreaking poster image draws you in immediately, and the effect isn't offset by a lot of additional information, save for some stats that are equally hard to swallow, a simple letter and a reply device that carry over the imagery and tone.
"From the very first sentence, the copy grabs your attention," writes Gold Awards judge Scott Swedenburg. "You are warned about the shocking images, which only makes most people want to read further.
"The shocking pictures make you want to help," he adds. "The poster then becomes an involvement piece, which the reader may or may not put on a wall, but would definitely want to share with others. This is helping build a community of future members."
Fellow judge Paul Bobnak mentioned that the use of a poster as the outer is still enough of a novelty to be really effective, especially combined with the pull-no-punches imagery and content.
"The strategy was a success," Schoewe explains. "We tested the package against an existing nonpremium control package. For outside lists, the trash poster had a response rate 49 percent higher than the control, which was a highly significant difference.
"In addition, the powerful images and copy helped us acquire a higher-value donor, with an average gift 14 percent above the control."
DIRECT MAIL: RENEWAL (50,000 or more mailed)
3 Cent Bank Package
Submitted by CDR Fundraising Group
• The Numbers
Total Income Generated: $64,206
Average Gift: $15.60
Cost to Raise a Dollar: $0.83
Total Out-of-Pocket Costs: $24,667
Response Rate: 8.22 percent
When you think Toys for Tots, you think Christmas, right? Sure you do. And most of us are not thinking Christmas in August. But this package from the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation put the holiday/giving season top of mind for its recipients.
It's a nice, neat little mailing that is nearly devoid of Christmas imagery, save for the organization's signature toy train design and the clever cardboard bank festooned with red-and-white wrapping paper and a green ribbon.
The most notable elements of the package easily are the crisp image of a pile of pennies on the outer and the three actual pennies peeking through the address window.
Our judges like that this theme works on many levels. The three pennies represent a vital piece of information that Toys for Tots was looking to share with its recipients.
"Toys for Tots dedicates 97 cents from every dollar donated directly to program services," says Alisdair Sewell, account executive at CDR Fundraising Group. "Included in the package were three single pennies and an innovative coin bank, intended to encourage philanthropy and saving.
"Recipients were encouraged to start saving when they received the package in August of 2009 and then, when December arrived, to use the savings from their coin bank to shop for a new toy to donate to Toys for Tots," Sewell adds.
Providing a bank for recipients to save to help Toys for Tots in December and encouraging them to start doing so with the very pennies attached is something of a stroke of genius in that it gets around the issues that come with using actual coinage in solicitation packages: Do donors perceive it as a waste of money, and is it, indeed, a waste of money? This way, the pennies ostensibly go into the bank and the recipient will use those pennies and lots of other change she has saved in the bank to help Toys for Tots fulfill its mission to provide Christmas toys for children who might not otherwise have them.
Aside from the letter, the cleverly designed bank and a return envelope, this mailing's only other element is the reply device where the three pennies are attached. And that's where the purer ask is made. So in one package, the recipient has the option of helping in one or both ways: Donate money now, save money and buy a toy later, or — best of all — do both.
"This renewal effort sells the offer with lots of sizzle, making the pennies meaningful in multiple ways, making links between the donor and a child who receives a toy, and reinforcing the organization's outstanding stewardship of donations," Gold Awards judge Kimberly Seville says. "The offer is beautifully backstopped with an emotionally satisfying story. The package does a spot-on job of speaking to the donor's heart in familiar language about what matters to this organization's donors.
"Images of pennies and the actual coins showing through the outer envelope window are likely more effective than Christmas imagery for this summer campaign," she adds.
Nothing proves that point better than the results: According to Sewell, the package tested against a long-standing control package, the Calendar Booklet.
"The Coin Bank package beat the control in terms of response percentage (8.22 percent vs. 6.35 percent), dollar average ($15.60 vs. $15.54), gross received ($64,206 vs. $49,385) and net per piece ($0.38 vs. $0.37)."
DIRECT MAIL: SPECIAL APPEAL
Founding Sponsor Verification File Card
Submitted by The Lukens Co.
• The Numbers
Total Income Generated: $311,155.47
Average Gift: $67.31
Cost to Raise a Dollar: $0.15
Total Out-of-Pocket Costs: $48,195.39
Response Rate: 6.34 percent
They say that everything old is new again — and that certainly proved to be the case when the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial set out to pump life into a sluggish housefile. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the organization revisited a strategy it had used in 2008, when it generated $188,000 in net revenue by mailing a file-card package that asked donors to verify the information it had on file for them and that would appear under a Founding Sponsors title at the site of the memorial.
Jazzed by that success — a $5.73 ROI — the organization dusted off the 2008 package, gave it a little twist and wound up with a one-two punch reaching out to two separate audiences with a minimal amount of extra work.
It created two very similar letters — one intended for folks who responded to the initial file-card mailing, asking them to verify that any changes they requested be made were indeed made, and the other intended for nonresponders that was marked with a “Final Notice” stamp.
The action piece in the former is a green bar printout, while in the latter it’s the original file card — both asking the donor to 1) check the information and 2) send in a second gift (or initial gift, as the case may be).
The copy in the letters is less than scintillating, but our judges were pleased with it because “the letters do the right things to get the donor to make a special gift, chiefly by flattery,” Gold Awards judge Paul Bobnak says. “There’s a lot of use of ‘generosity,’ ‘loyalty,’ ‘steadfast,’ ‘generous,’ etc.”
Adds judge Steve Kehrli: “They have an excellent understanding of their donors’ desire to be recognized and then leveraging that.”
According to Kristy Schaller, account director at The Lukens Co., the overall 6.34 percent response rate was the highest of the entire 2009 housefile year.
“This package, which mailed to fewer than 73,000 housefile donors, raised $311,155.47 in gross revenue and $262,960.08 in new revenue,” she says. “And it continues to be the best-performing housefile mailing for the Memorial.”
DIRECT MAIL: GRAND CONTROL OF THE YEAR
Selected from the Who's Mailing What! Archive
The 2010 Drive, the latest mailing by Easter Seals to reach Grand Control status (mailed for three years or more), has a lot more going for it than mere longevity. This campaign, at first glance, resembles a previous "free gifts" effort that was the organization's control from 2000 to 2005. Let's start with the in-line produced 8.5-inch-by-9.5-inch carrier envelope. Across its front is emblazoned the prospect's name and the greeting, "ENCLOSED ARE YOUR FREE GIFTS." Inside, in addition to the letter and reply form, both campaigns have in common a cornucopia of freemiums: a sheet of name and address labels; a sheet of colorful Easter Seals flower stickers; and a pack of bookmarks, note sheets and a calendar.
However, the "Drive" mailing ups the ante over the previous version in several important ways. First, the outer now includes a plea, "Your help is needed to support vital Easter Seals programs in [name of state]," alongside an ink-jetted icon of the addressee's state. So, early on, the potential donor is being put on notice that she will be asked for a donation and that, in some way, her own state will benefit. Next, besides additional incentives — another sticker sheet and a stand-alone calendar — the envelope includes a personalized, gold-bordered "Certificate of Appreciation," measuring 7 inches by 7 inches. It's a direct appeal to flattery, thanking the donor for his "generous contribution" to "provide programs and services for people with disabilities and their families."
Another important addition to the mailing is a personalized one-page lift letter by James E. Williams Jr., the president and CEO of Easter Seals. In the Johnson box, he notes that, "Last year, Easter Seals helped over one million children and adults," and in the body of the letter, he briefly spells out some of the services provided: "therapy, training, education and support services." And he affirms the value of "a gift in any amount you can afford" — it "will help people become as independent as possible, and lead more fulfilling, rewarding lives."
The heart of the mailing, though, is still a two-page letter by a parent whose child was born with a disability. In this case, it's the mother of a girl, Kayla. She starts on a note of flattery, thanking Easter Seals "and people like you," because her daughter "is a typical 9-year-old." She then relates their story, touching on many of the fears, uncertainties and determination most parents experience when raising kids. Without appealing to pity, she paints a hopeful portrait of a "tough little girl," who, with the help of Easter Seals from early on, overcame great odds. At the letter's end, the mom thanks Easter Seals for "so much caring and expertise," and asks for support so more children "will have every opportunity to reach their full potential."
The freemiums and the heavy personalization in this package certainly succeed in getting it opened. But ultimately, it's the powerful, personal letter that inspires donors to give. — Paul Bobnak
High Holiday Appeal to Fight Hunger
Submitted by American Jewish World Service
• The Numbers
Total Income Generated: $508,470
Average Gift: $202
Cost to Raise a Dollar: N/A*
Total out of Pocket Costs: N/A*
Response Rate: 1 percent
The chairman of the board offering to match every donation dollar for dollar up to $250,000 has a way of lighting a fire under any campaign, and the folks who run it have to make sure that fire spreads to their donors to ensure the organization will make the most of that generous offer.
Such was the case last year when American Jewish World Service was contemplating an unusual (for it) single-issue campaign.
"AJWS executes an online fundraising campaign every year during the High Holiday season," the organization's Joshua Berkman explains. This year, due to the rapidly increasing rate of poverty worldwide, we decided that it would be an ideal opportunity to galvanize our supporters around the issue of hunger and raise money for AJWS' portfolio of grantees who are pioneering sustainable agriculture in their communities and advocating for land rights and equitable trade practices.
"Because this would be a single-issue focus as opposed to a general appeal, we were aware that we might ultimately raise significantly less money than the previous two campaigns," he says. "But the issue was too critical to ignore."
So buoyed by incoming Board Chair Barbara Dobkin's matching-gift offer, the organization launched the Fight Hunger from the Ground Up campaign with a straightforward e-mail from Dobkin, explaining the matching-gift opportunity and why she was providing it. That e-mail raised $19,000 right off the bat, and three subsequent e-mails — equally as tight as the first but signed instead by AJWS President Ruth Messinger — generated more than $185,000.
Two versions of a follow-up e-mail that hinged on the Yom Kippur holiday and used Holy Scripture to encourage recipients to donate the cost of their holiday fast — a suggested $36 gift — raised another $8,301.
Our judges liked the neat look of the e-mails, the tight copy, the inclusion of the signer's photo next to her name and the prominent placement of vivid widgets to remind recipients of the hook in each part of the campaign — the matching gift or the Yom Kippur request.
"I particularity liked the original e-mail from Barbara Dobkin, pledging to match any gifts raised," Gold Awards judge Joe Boland says. "That, and the subsequent e-mails signed by Ruth Messinger, really sounded like a personal e-mail.
"The length for all of them was appropriate — short and easy to read, but packed with information on how you, the donor, can help," he adds.
AJWS pumped up the final tally on donations to $258,470 by enlisting a group of rabbinical students who had recently traveled to the field with AJWS to direct their constituents to donate online at the organization's website — an additional $8,474.
Despite concern that the campaign might be negatively affected by its single focus and the restricted nature of the gifts, it met its match and raised only 5 percent less than in 2008 — "a much more narrow spread than expected," Berkman says.
"The principal driver in this year's successful campaign was the effectively executed strategy to help people connect to their faith and find relevance in writing and ritual observances that are thousands of years old," he adds.
Our judges thought this campaign was a perfect example of how a risk or a new direction can pay off, so long as it explains itself well and is in keeping with the core of your mission.
[* Joshua Berkman: "All of our work in creating and implementing this campaign was done in-house using our technology platform. There was no expense other than staff time."]
Tiger Matching Gift
Submitted by Schultz & Williams
• The Numbers
Total Income Generated: $25,692
Average Gift: $119.15
Cost to Raise a Dollar: $0.13
Total Out-of-Pocket Costs: $42,705
Response Rate: 3.71 percent
As much we hate to encourage this sort of thing, we have to say that Gold Awards judge Dave Stuart declared that this campaign, "has the tiger by the tail!" Exclamation point and all. But we don't hold it against him … a great fundraising effort can do that to a person, especially a fellow fundraiser.
Up until 2009, WCS raised its funds primarily by acquiring subscribers to its magazine. But then the magazine was discontinued, and the organization was forced to reposition its fundraising to focus more on, well, plain old giving rather than subscribing.
Our judges were impressed not only with the results of the campaign as they stand on their own, but even more so because of the huge redirect the organization was forced to take.
According to Schultz & Williams' Jessica Harrington, the Tiger Matching Gift Campaign was WCS' most successful fundraising campaign to date.
"It also began to change the relationship WCS has with its constituents, moving from a subscriber-based transaction to a philanthropic connection, which will only serve to increase donations in the years to come," she says.
It certainly didn't hurt that WCS was able to ease the transition with a matching-gift offer from a foundation to add a sense of urgency to the campaign.
This remarkably clean series of four e-mails and two mail pieces, along with a tie-in to the WCS website, centered on communications from Colin Poole, a prominent scientist and director of Asia programs for WCS.
"The story was the same across all mediums: In order to save the tigers of the world, immediate action needed to be taken," Harrington explains.
The direct-mail pieces included response coupons that asked donors for gifts based on their past giving and showed what their donations would become when doubled. E-mails were sent around the time of each mail piece and then again right before the end of the Dec. 31 deadline for one final push.
WCS also prominently featured the campaign on its homepage, using a powerful "camera trap" photo of a tiger and a short call to action linking to the donation form.
In this campaign, WCS mastered the fine art of multichannel messaging and incorporated a variety of best practices. Our judges liked the progressively urgent feel of the messaging, the uncluttered look of the entire campaign and the seamless website tie-in, as well as the brief but thoughtful donor follow-up e-mail.
"Which in my opinion is a practice that should be used more these days," Stuart says.
"Simple, clean and to the point," fellow judge Steve Kehrli says. "Nothing confusing or complicated, and the images are excellent, reinforcing the copy that carries across each channel."
And lest you feel the urge to argue the power of simplicity, response to this campaign beat projections by 197.4 percent and revenue beat projections by 429.7 percent. Average gift was 117.75 percent higher than expected.
WCS raised 84 percent more funds with this campaign than in the same time frame the previous year and increased the number of donors 105 percent. Not bad for a campaign that, by necessity, turned WCS' fundraising strategy on its head. FS