The Little Mailing That Did
The Vermont Foodbank is the only food bank in the state of Vermont. For years, CEO Deborah Flateman says, it had relied on volunteers to produce its acquisition and renewal mailings in-house. The pieces themselves were inexpensive, consisting mostly of a letter with the organization’s letterhead and simple reply elements.
But in 2004, VFB moved its headquarters to a location that was harder for its direct-mail volunteers to get to. Faced with that situation and a growing desire to pump up its donor base, VFB enlisted the help of L.W. Robbins Associates, a Holliston, Mass.-based direct-response fundraising firm that works with more than 30 food banks across the country, to create a holiday acquisition appeal.
The goal was modest: to acquire 500 new donors with a $25 or more average gift, so the mailing would break even. The main target for the mailing was Vermont residents who had supported a nonprofit organization in the past and who were direct-mail responsive. With no prior list acquisition results for VFB and a limited universe offered by the sparsely populated, rural state of Vermont, L.W. Robbins relied on rented lists of about 25,000 direct-mail responsive individuals who were prior donors to various nonprofits, catalog purchasers and magazine subscribers.
Creatively, the goal was to design an inexpensive package that conveyed a sense of urgency. At the time, L.W. Robbins was mailing name labels for a number of its other food bank clients’ holiday acquisitions, but to keep costs down, it turned instead to a mini note-card format and a blind envelope.
Inside the 4-inch-by-6-inch blind outer envelope is a horizontally folded 5-inch-by-7-inch note card with a 3-inch-by-5-inch reply device laying in its fold and a BRE. The front panel of the note card shows a warm, country kitchen illustration with a table filled with plenty: baskets of apples, jars of sweets, a loaf of bread, a pie, etc. Inside the note card is copy in letter format that is brief — six short paragraphs and a P.S. — and to the point, laying out the need in urgent terms: At this time when many people are enjoying food, friends and family, many of your neighbors will have nothing to eat. The reply is personalized to the recipient’s name and home town. It shows a thumbnail picture of a child at a table alongside the ask: “Mr. Sample, we need you now more than ever so that we can feed hungry children, seniors and families in [town name] this holiday season. Please be as generous as possible. Thank you and happy holidays.” The ask string is $25; $15; $35; $50; and other.