A Well-calculated Risk
For almost 200 years, the American Bible Society has provided Scripture to needy individuals in almost every country in the world. Like many nonprofits in the 1990s, ABS was using elaborate, premium-based acquisitions to attract new donors via mail. Renting several million names each fall, ABS would mail a single acquisition and garner several hundred thousand new donors at a crack.
Unfortunately, the organization spent the rest of the year wondering if those new donors gave because they felt connected to the mission or because they liked the premiums.
ABS also was in the trap of “as acquired, so renewed” and felt compelled to continue to offer the elaborate premiums to keep donors on the file. Adding to the challenge was the fact that ABS’s message about the life-changing power of the gospel and Word of God had been understated to a more general message about the goodness of God.
A radical step
In fiscal 2002 and 2003 (during the post-911 crisis), ABS did something that for many other nonprofits would have signaled certain death for the program: It suspended acquisition. During that time, ABS researched its donor base, honed its message and garnered board support for a renewed mission statement and copy platforms.
In fiscal 2003, it slowly began moving its messaging toward a more “meaning-based” fundraising approach. Gone were the elaborate premiums, but gone also were the general statements about “sharing God’s light in the world.”
The new ABS messaging boldly spoke about the life-changing message of the Gospel and the importance of God’s Word in the lives of believers all over the world.
Not only were donors called to give, but they also were regularly called into action, asked to pray for ABS’ efforts and to send notes to those benefiting from the donated Scriptures.