An Unkind Cut?
Alley Cat Allies is a Bethesda, Md.-based national clearinghouse for information on feral and stray cats devoted to reducing the number of domestic and feral cats through nonlethal methods. The organization publishes a quarterly newsletter, AlleyCatAction, that showcases groups and individuals around the country who are improving conditions for feral and stray cats; it’s been sending the 8.5-inch-by-10.5-inch non-glossy newsletter to its house file of past and current donors for about five years.
Two years ago, ACA redesigned the eight-page newsletter to include a donation ask on the seventh page for donors to cut out and return with a donation in the BRE. The cut-out had a general donation gift string, a box donors could check to receive information on the organization’s monthly donor program, and an option to request information on including ACA in their estate planning. The inclusion of the cut-out reply device generated increased donations in response to the newsletter.
Coming in to the organization around the time of this success but seeing an opportunity to increase response, Elise Ravenscroft, development director for ACA, suggested a test: the current newsletter mailing with a cut-out reply device versus a newsletter mailed with a 3.5-inch-by-8.5-inch free-floating reply device in addition to the cut-out inside the newsletter. On one side of the free-floating reply was the general, one-time gift string, while the other side gave donors the option to receive information on workplace giving; donating property or stock; including ACA in their estate planning; and joining ACA’s monthly giving program. The revenue the newsletter control mailing was generating was great and the response excellent, but Ravenscroft’s theory was that forcing recipients to cut out a portion of the newsletter was actually deterring response because they wanted to keep it intact.
Results to the test proved she was right. For the first test, ACA mailed 86,000 newsletters with the free-floating reply. It cost the organization an additional $3,000 to add the insert, she says. But despite the minimal increase in cost, the test mailing brought in $149,000 gross, while the newsletter control it tested against typically averaged about $75,000 to $80,000. The organization saw an increase in donations and responses to its estate-planning and monthly giving programs.
“The only thing we altered was giving them an additional response mechanism,” she says. “What we’re finding when we talk to people is they’re passing our newsletters on. So I think people didn’t like the idea that they were cutting out this coupon, and if they wanted to pass the newsletter on to somebody it would have this big hole in it.”
Another problem with the cut-out reply was that a lot of donors — not wanting to cut away part of the newsletter but wanting to donate to ACA — would mail a check in the enclosed BRE without including the trackable reply device.
“We had a lot of unknown donations that were coming in,” Ravenscroft says.
Since the initial test, ACA has worked to lower the cost of the insert. The second time the newsletter with the floating reply dropped, it went to 91,000 people and cost the organization less than $2,000.
Testing, take two
When Ravenscroft arrived at ACA, the organization was sending — and had been for nearly 10 years — as its cold-acquisition package a plain gray No. 10 envelope with the Alley Cat Allies logo and return address in blue on its face. The envelope flap on the back featured “Thank you for your help!” copy in blue, and below the flap was a box with an ACA testimonial from allpets.com magazine. Thinking the package rather bland, especially in terms of what she saw other animal-welfare organizations such as the Humane Society, the ASPCA and PETA mailing, Ravenscroft suggested testing a redesigned, more visually appealing package.
“Everybody seems to have bumped their appeals to include color and to be more dynamic and engaging, at least visually when it first hits the mail, so we thought we would test that,” she says. “Alley Cat Allies was in a position where we wanted to kind of beef up our image, and we thought maybe this is a place where we can do it; we can make ourselves look like the other organizations that we’re in competition for funds against.”
The redesigned package features a white No. 10 in three colors, with a black-and-white photograph of a kitten on the front and the teaser, “Nine lives and she still needs saving,” written in purple. The inner elements of the package employ a bit more color than the elements in the gray control mailing, but for the most part the elements and their messaging are the same. The cost per thousand to mail the gray control is $270 vs. a CPM of $302 for the test, but the hope was that these minor tweaks to make a more visually interesting package would appeal to a wider range of people and offset the increased costs.
ACA tested its new mailing beginning in late August 2005 and, much to Ravenscroft’s surprise, it didn’t beat the old gray control. In her own words, the redesigned test “has been just absolutely blown out of the water
by the old, dredge-y gray piece.”
In terms of response, the cost for the organization to obtain one donor with the test mailing was $34.82 versus $11.36 with the gray control.
The reason? Ravenscroft sees it as a result of ACA’s audience being, in large part, older individuals who, rather than being turned off by a two-color package, are heartened by the simple mailing because it looks cost effective.
Proving its mettle in the mail, the gray mailing remains ACA’s control. The organization has since continued testing other variables such as the mailing’s gift string and lowered the cost to acquire donors to $7.94.