A Real Direct-mail Mystery
What to do? A legend in direct marketing comes up with an idea for your nonprofit, an idea that would increase donations dramatically. But it’s an idea that goes against the very core of your mission.
If you’re Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, you reject it. You send direct marketing guru Jerry Huntsinger away and quietly hope he’ll come back.
That’s what happened when Huntsinger put his promotional prowess to work for CU in 2001. He had an idea for a direct mail campaign to improve on the already successful $25,000 raffle that CU had been using for nearly two decades. According to Cary Castle, director of fundraising, the raffle had been “unbeatable in CU’s donor acquisition program.”
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But Huntsinger apparently isn’t one to live life on the advice of sappy sayings. His idea was to replace the cash raffle with one that offered a top-rated CU test car as the grand prize.
Consumer Reports tests products and services — everything from DVDs to SUVs, cat food to Cadillacs. What many people don’t know is that it avoids influence from manufacturers and service providers by purchasing everything in actual stores at retail prices. CU focus-group testing has shown that more than half of Consumer Reports subscribers aren’t aware that CU needs to raise money to support all that testing, which is done in labs in New York and Connecticut.
A sexier campaign
But back to Huntsinger’s idea. The consensus was that is was brilliant. A shiny, new car with juicy options no doubt would make for a sexier campaign than a cash prize.
But there was a fly in the ointment from the get-go. Castle and company rejected the idea because they feared that showing the car could be construed as a product endorsement, which is exactly what CU absolutely could not allow.