Case Study: Human Rights Campaign Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal, Part 3
At the DMA Nonprofit Federation's New York Nonprofit Conference, the Human Rights Campaign was honored as the Nonprofit Organization of the Year. One example of just how deserving HRC is of this tremendous award is its success in repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) legislation in the military.
Over the next few weeks, FundRaising Success will share an in-depth case study on HRC's DADT repeal campaign from 2010, which is published in full in FS sister brand DirectMarketingIQ's report, "The Art & Science of Multichannel Fundraising."
The sheer amount of creative HRC used was staggering. Dozens upon dozens of communications were deployed via every channel based solely on the DADT repeal, and on top of that, HRC included at least one paragraph in every message it relayed, such as election e-mails and mail pieces. There were so many that you could fill an entire book with all of the appeals. HRC was kind enough to pass along a few examples of the types of creative it used during the campaign.
The direct mailer HRC sent in April as an appeal, renewal and acquisition test was sent in a No. 10 envelope that just begged to be open. It had the teaser "Time Sensitive Petitions Enclosed" in blue ink inside a yellow bar, and below that to the right of the address window was the text "URGENT RENEWAL REMINDER" in a stamp-like blue font. (It was versioned for the renewal, appeal and acquisition with slightly different language.) And it was also branded with the Human Rights Campaign logo in the return address field. On the revers side of the outer envelope, HRC tried something new. For the first time, it showed an image of the premium it had created, a dog tag keychain with the text "REPEAL DON'T ASK DON'T TELL" on it, which was below the HRC address information and www.hrc.org URL (which was on the flap). Next to that was more blue text inside a yellow bar, just like the front: "Make a Statement! Special Offer Inside …"
"It was one of the first times that we had ever put on the outside envelope something that would identify it as related to LGBT issues," HRC's Susan Paine says. "We typically have just a plain white envelope with personal correspondence in acquisition. For the first time we showed the premium that we had created, which had 'repeal DADT on it.' … Not only did it do well in the test … but we didn't receive any complaints from people who might have been concerned about getting something that could potentially out them."
The contents inside included a two-page letter, a 7-inch-by-10-inch lift note from Erica Alva — one of HRC's biggest spokesmen and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who came out as a homosexual when he retired after 13 years of military service — reply form, premium insert, HRC membership insert and BRE.
The letter, which was sent by HRC President Joe Solmonese, used all the classic techniques: underlined and bold text, short paragraphs, a signature and a P.S. It began in underlined type: "Thanks to your generous past support, the Human Rights Campaign has made major progress in our fight to the repeal the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law." The next paragraph was bold: "That's why I urge you to renew your HRC membership for 2010 today — because we simply cannot win this critical fight and other key battles for equality without you."
A few paragraphs down, two calls to action were laid out. It began, "That's why I'm urging you to take two critical actions today," in underlined text, followed by the calls to action in bold typeface:
"First, please sign the enclosed petitions urging your two U.S. Senators to support swift passage of legislation to allow lesbian and gay patriots to openly serve in our nation's armed forces — and rush the petitions back to me before May 31st in the envelope provided.
"Second, please support HRC's tireless work for LGBT equality by including your 2010 membership renewal gift with your petitions. You can also renew your support securely online at hrc.org/april2010. And if you reaffirm your commitment with a donation of $35 or more, I'll send you a boldly stylish HRC dog tag keychain as our thank you gift — to show the world that you're on the frontlines of the fight to end discrimination in our armed forces."
The text was versioned differently for appeal and acquisition, using other language to encourage becoming a member or donating in the second call to action.
The letter went on to state how your support will be used to help HRC and in the repeal of DADT. The calls to action were reinforced in the final paragraph, again in bold text, and it highlighted the "FREE" keychain for your gift of $35 or more, and was signed by Solmonese with a handwritten signature. The P.S. was a callout to the Alva insert and again asked to return the petitions and donate/renew to HRC.
The Alva insert, which has been wildly successful for HRC, was a personal letter from Alva recounting his own story of how DADT impacted his life. It thanked recipients for their support and was signed by Alva — an incredibly emotional story to engage readers and put a face to the cause.
The premium insert created a sense of urgency to respond with the text, "GET YOURS BY RUSHING YOUR HRC GIFT OF $35 OR MORE TODAY!" A second insert highlighted the "FREE" benefit of being an HRC member: a one-year subscription to Equality, HRC's LGBT magazine.
Finally, the reply form had a personal touch, putting the recipient's name on it. It had specified dollar amounts in check boxes, as well as a space to provide a gift in the amount of your choosing. There was also a check box for respondents that wanted to opt out of the premium, along with the HRC URL to make online donations or renewals. Below that were the petitions to the U.S. senators for the recipient to sign, as well as a box titled "Take the Next Step!" Inside that box, HRC gave people the option to receive information about HRC Equality Circle, HRC's legacy gift program, and HRC Partners, the organization's monthly giving program, a great way to upsell and cultivate donors further.
HRC also used e-mails throughout the year keeping supporters updated on what was going on with the DADT repeal and asking them to take action. Each e-mail began by greeting the recipient by his or her first name, and each one ended with a signature, a "Donate Today" button, and links to share on Facebook and Twitter. And each e-mail hit a specific subject and asked recipients to take action. HRC shared four e-mails it deployed.
The subject line for the e-mail sent Feb. 25 was "Who do you know in the military?" with the from line reading Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign. It used bold text throughout to discuss how some member of Congress were still on the fence about the DADT repeal, and it asked recipients to take a DADT survey and pass it along to "everyone you know with any personal connections to the military." That text was hyperlinked to the survey landing page. To the right, there was a video in a gray box, again asking you to do the same thing and hyperlinking to the survey landing page, and it was hyperlinked one more time with the call to action to share the survey.
The e-mail sent on March 18 had the same layout, but this one was dedicated to real stories of servicemen and servicewomen who had been affected by DADT. It shared three stories and asked recipients to send a story to Congress. In the gray box where the video had been in the February e-mail was an update that "Two veterans are speaking to the Senate today about how 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) is failing." It also had a link to six personal accounts on DADT and asked recipients to read them and choose one to e-mail to lawmakers. The box text concluded: "ALSO: Tell everyone you know in D.C. to come to Freedom Plaza at noon TODAY for a rally to repeal DADT with Kathy Griffin!" That incorporated a celebrity endorsement, event and linked to the rally landing page.
A November e-mail was sent by Alva, with his name replacing Solmonese's in the from line. Its subject was "Breaking: Pentagon report says gays should serve. Tell Congress to act!" Alva's e-mail encouraged recipients to tell your senators to repeal DADT. The gray box reinforced the subject line, and a P.S. was added after Alva's signature, with the call to action to make two calls — one for each senator in your state — to your senators' offices to tell them to repeal DADT … then report your calls on the DADT HRC microsite.
One of the final messages came on Dec. 17, again from Solmonese. Its subject line was "'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' vote TOMORROW!" This message urged recipients to call their senators with a four-step proposal:
- Call one senator's office, and tell the staff person who answers where you live so they know you're a real constituent.
- Tell them you want the senator to support the standalone bill repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" – and that you'll remember how they vote when they're next up for election.
- Thank them, hang up, and make your second call to the other senator.
- Click here to let us know you made a call – we use this information to guide our lobbying efforts, so please don't skip it.
HRC also creatively told recipients to save the Congressional Switchboard number — 202.224.3121 — in their cell phones and hand it to someone else to make those two calls, as well as posting it to your Facebook page so friends can take the same action. It ended with a P.S. to make the calls.
Those are just a few of the creatives used by HRC. The LGBT rights organization also used print and online advertisements, including full-page ads in Politico, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Boston Herald, the Virginian-Pilot and the Indianapolis Star, not to mention ads in 20 major LGBT outlets. It also incorporated a telemarketing component, where a firm HRC works with offered to do a break-even campaign — where the firm took on some of the risk of jumping on the phones. Via telemarketing, HRC reconnected with very deep lapsed members, using the momentum and media exposure of the DADT repeal to bring them back to the organization.
Social media was integrated as well. HRC used applications where friends and followers could post their messages supporting the repeal of DADT and tweet their members of Congress.
"It was the first time we tried any of those [social-media] tools at HRC, and we received an amazing amount of support and messages from those tools," says Lindsey Twombly, HRC's online fundraising and advocacy manager.