Insert Success Story Here
In the for-profit world, insert media no longer is considered an “alternative” marketing channel. Program managers are seeing significant usage by mailers seeking vehicles to brand and sample their myriad products and services. But for most nonprofits, an insert is still just an alternative, a substitute, a backup.
One of the greatest challenges for charities considering insert media, according to Curt Weigel, account supervisor at Seattle-based direct-marketing agency the Domain Group, is finding enough relevant programs to accommodate a campaign’s fundraising needs.
“Statement stuffers have performed very well for many of our clients,” Weigel says. “The cost of producing and placing a self-mailer with various cable or utility invoices is inexpensive, and response rates are decent in relation to cost, often as high as 0.5 percent. The problem is that there are a limited number of opportunities for placement in certain markets.”
For Domain’s clients, statement stuffers historically have generated a higher percentage of new donors, versus responses, than other mediums such as newspaper display advertisements and free-standing inserts. Often, 70 percent of total responses will come from first-time donors.
“Generally speaking, local nonprofit organizations have achieved a greater measure of success with insert media than national charities,” Weigel affirms. “Local organizations often benefit from a greater awareness in a given market. And that doesn’t hurt, considering insert media is not typically personalized.”
Keep it fresh and local
One such organization is the Fresh Air Fund, a New York City-based charity that provides summer vacations to disadvantaged inner-city children. For the last 25 years, FAF has placed self-mailer inserts with Con Edison utility bills on the four Mondays of every May. (Con Edison provides electric and gas service in New York City and Westchester.)
With its simple, two-color process and straightforward local message, the spare, 31⁄2-inch-by-7-inch insert is relatively cheap to produce and always nets revenue, Director of Development Lori Seader says. What’s more, Con Ed donates the envelope space.
“Over the years, the amount of money we’ve received is not substantial compared to our direct-mail returns,” Seader notes. “But it’s an opportunity to put ourselves in front of new and existing donors and raise money through another channel, at next to no cost.”
FAF draws an average donation of $34 through its Con Ed insert program, mainly in the form of personal checks from older donors, whereas direct mail fetches an average gift of $38.
“We like to keep the insert simple and generic, focusing on the needy children we send [to camp] every year,” Seader says, commenting on FAF’s broad-based appeal that includes a remittance envelope and features on the front a black-and-white photograph of two children, with the accompanying teaser, “Let inner-city kids view the world in wonderful new ways.”
Inside, FAF presents a three-paragraph letter signed by Executive Director Jenny Morgenthau in small, but readable, typeface:
“Glistening sunshine on a crystal clear lake … a deer pauses quietly in a still forest … the warm laughter with new friends … these are sights and sounds that can make a Fresh Air summer unforgettable for New York City’s poorest children.”
FAF makes a point to feature its Web site, www.freshair.org, in orange typeface below the ask string, but Seader says few respondents have made donations online. Those who do give, either through the Web or traditional mail, are placed in a direct-mail donor-renewal program that has been “very successful.”
Broaden your appeal
While FAF’s program requires little upfront investment, many development departments simply lack the time, expertise and funds needed to explore new fundraising techniques such as insert media. Many small to mid-sized fundraising shops work with an operating budget of anywhere between $2 million and $15 million. Insert media has yet to fly near their radars.
“More and more, nonprofits are waking up to the importance of diversifying their appeals,” says Sarah Durham, principal of Big Duck Studio, a New York City-based fundraising agency. “And they’re dealing with the fact that they may have a [department] with only two, three, maybe four people who have a very particular focus that has emerged through their fundraising history, and that may not include insert media.”
Durham adds that organizations with a broad-based appeal and timeless message tend to fare the greatest with statement-stuffer and package ride-a-long programs.
“You have to present a very short, articulated message that can be communicated in a paragraph, because you’re not going to have the amount of real estate on an insert to tell a success story,” Durham says. “With most programs, you’re hitting such a broad range of people that you have to communicate your needs quickly and tailor your appeal, somewhat, to the lowest common denominator.”
Before diving in, Durham advises organizations to vet potential relationships with program owners, e.g., utility companies, catalogers, publications, for affinity and brand cohesiveness.
“Every for-profit company has its own strategy and approach for what kinds of issues they want to support,” Durham says. “And you have to play by their rules on what they will or will not insert. Many times, a [program] will potentially strong arm a nonprofit into a branding direction that is allied with that of the for-profit. It can limit the scope of programs that are a good fit.”
According to Amy Benicewicz, vice president of Bethel, Conn.-based full-service agency Catamount Group, mailers often will find success with an insert-media program or company if its direct-response list has turned up donors in the past.
“Let’s say the National Geographic subscriber list works well for an international-relief organization. Chances are their package-insert program and statement-stuffer [program] will also work well,” Benicewicz says. “With insert media, we always look for programs with the type of demographic audience currently making up the organization’s [direct-mail] donor base.”
Really just a leap of faith
For the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Belleville, Ill.-based religious charity serving the poor and needy, finding a good fit was as easy as paging through a Catholic periodical.
Since the mid 1990s, Oblates has placed free-standing inserts through Valassis and Media Alternatives in various Catholic publications and newspapers to add new names to its donor base and reduce premium inventory.
“We use FSI advertising to reach a broader audience that may not be found on traditional mailing lists and to complement our direct-mail acquisition program,” says Allison Hewitt, marketing manager. “As we traditionally need less [premium] inventory to respond to an advertisement, we are able to use leftover premiums on successful campaigns, where appropriate, to help with inventory issues, but the primary focus of the [FSI] program is obtaining new names, so we only use premiums that were found to be successful.”
With a business model structured around back-end premium offerings, Oblates is not as concerned with converting premium-centric donors into straight donors as other organizations might be.
For each FSI, Oblates talks in brief about its mission, presents a picture and copy describing the free gift offer, as well as highlights a designated Web site URL and 800 number. Typical response rates range from 7 percent to 8 percent, and the average gift is roughly $16.
“Overall, our [FSI] advertising program is turning a profit with long-term donor value faster than our traditional mailings, which also include back-end premiums,” Hewitt says. “As these donors tend to not traditionally be on most mailing lists, they may be not inundated with mail and therefore might not have hit their saturation points from fundraisers.”
Hewitt is quick to point out that this medium does not traditionally work well for Oblates with strictly a mission message. “FSIs can be very product driven,” she says, “which for many organizations is a negative thing.”