An Offer They Can't Refuse
So how can organizations affect prospective donors’ attitudes from the first direct-mail communiqué so they make the commitment to donate? Creating a commitment through an irresistible proposition is a good way to start.
Having recently reviewed the Target Analytics donorCentrics 2013 Index of National Fundraising Performance second-quarter results and the industrywide focus on the importance of relationship marketing (not transactions) affecting the donor experience (not the donor’s behavior), it struck me that we have the proven tools needed; we just need to change how we use them if we are going to improve the metrics for acquiring and retaining committed donors.
Results indicate overall donor numbers continue to steadily decline across all sectors. New-donor growth continues to be an uphill climb for most organizations. Lists, offer, creative, copy, post-recession slow growth … so, where to start?
The following are a few exceptional examples of how organizations have used proven formats like certificates, surveys and acknowledgments to enhance the donor experience and, in turn, drive up continued commitment. (Although these are examples of singular efforts, the point is not lost that it’s the cumulative communication with the constituent that creates the total donor experience … or lack thereof.)
Certificate of appreciation and survey format
Certificates of appreciation as special inserts are used frequently within a wide spectrum of fundraising initiatives — special appeals, renewals, requests to upgrade and even acquisition formats. The first example demonstrates how City of Hope used a high-touch certificate and survey format as part of a cultivation strategy — acknowledging committed donors who had supported the organization for 10-plus years. The signature blue, 9-inch by 12-inch envelope; matching embossed certificate with cardboard insert; and letter recognizing the donors’ loyal support, dedication, friendship and partnership are impressive.
The survey asked the donor to comment on his program priorities, the organizational accomplishments of which he was most proud and how he’d like to receive information, and it invited his additional comments. The survey also included a mention of planned giving, which was a natural transition given the donor’s tenure of commitment. The involvement devices combined with the select language acknowledging the donor’s importance demonstrated how simple elements could contribute in a meaningful way to the donor experience.
Certificate of appreciation and donor-centric copy
Another example of how a certificate was used to acknowledge support and cultivate a relationship is from the National Museum of the American Indian — a year-end appeal in which the certificate of appreciation was designed to fit a 6-inch by 9-inch envelope. Teaser copy on the outer envelope announced, “Certificate of Appreciation Enclosed.” Upgraded paper was used for the reply/certificate — both integrated into a single form to help minimize the cost of matched components. The personalized, four-page letter referred to the donor as “one of our most dedicated Wellspring members” and gave recognition to the donor for “our great success,” making him feel like the focal point for the accomplishments attained.
The year-end ask was soft and included a return envelope. The few components included within this request did a solid job of conveying appreciation of past support and the hope for a continued partnership to accomplish the initiatives ahead.
Invitation-sized, ‘interactive’ insert and intriguing teaser
This communiqué survived the gauntlet of my daily search for unique formats in spite of the standard direct-mail techniques of an outer envelope with window and metered postage. Four noteworthy elements saved this piece from the trash: 1) the 5-inch by 7-inch invitation-style size; 2) the selection of crème paper and metallic ink; 3) the filigree decoration elegantly framing one corner of the outer envelope; and most importantly, 4) the surprising “Happy Anniversary” teaser printed in elegant script. Missing was the live, First Class stamp, but the intent of capturing my attention was accomplished. I had to open the envelope to figure out whose anniversary was being celebrated!
Inside, on matching paper, the note card front panel pronounced again, “Happy Anniversary!” Lifting the note card panel, the name of the organization, Feed the Children, was revealed for the first time. The format: a simple 6-and-a-quarter-inch by 9-inch, four-paragraph letter from the chairman of the board with drop-cut and nested reply form. The letter began with first-name personalization and intriguing first-paragraph copy: “Today is a very special day. This is the anniversary of your heartfelt commitment … 11 years ago today …” Really? Of course, I had to continue reading.
The brief but powerfully written letter acknowledged when the first gift was received — 11 years ago in February — and the total cumulative amount of personal donations received to date. The copy emphasized the life-changing difference the donor’s contribution had made, using one simple word — you — 11 times for repeated emphasis — “Thank you for your compassion” and “Thank you for your commitment” and “… it is our privilege to continue partnering with you.”
Feed the Children could have asked the donor to simply renew, the same as most other organizations do. And it could have just referenced the “member since” information and cumulative gifts. But it was the organization’s unique approach, acknowledging the anniversary of the donor’s first gift and her 11 years of commitment, that caught my attention and got me to open the envelope. Someone at Feed the Children is on the right donor-retention track in terms of smart donor-recognition cultivation techniques. Feed the Children could have sent this donor a certificate of appreciation, but the simple words “Happy Anniversary” are what got this envelope opened.
Surprising up-front premium, photo-heavy case studies and heartfelt copy
My colleague received a Handicap International acquisition mailing and shared it with me, as he had never seen anything like it before. The outer envelope had an unusual vertical window, which displayed an actual, toy-sized crutch. The envelope teaser read, “The little crutch inside is not a toy …”
Reviewing the inserts, it wasn’t easy to determine why the tiny crutch was included other than for shock value. The color red was used strategically throughout the communication. The font size was selectively ramped up for emphasis. All of the four inserts were photo-heavy with case studies of children affected by land mines and an unbelievable initiative that was both sad and hopeful. So, I took the plunge, crossed out my colleague’s name on the reply form and mailed my donation.
Within two weeks I received an acknowledgment — a hand-addressed envelope including a letter with the standard reference to the gift amount and date — but the overall tone was anything but standard. My small, single gift was acknowledged in a big way. Phrases including “warmest thanks,” “generous contribution,” “I thank you sincerely” and “together we are accomplishing remarkable feats” stood out. The final personal touch on the letter was a handwritten “thank you.”
Also included was a simple, four-color, three-panel brochure highlighting a case study of Fymée from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and her amazing two-month transformation. The headline of the brochure noted, “Your gift mends lives, like Fymée’s.” The brochure also stated, “You make a profound difference” and “You enable children to walk again.” The focus was on me, the donor — and how my contribution made a difference. It made me feel appreciated and wanting to do more.
In sum, remember that while donor engagement is good, retention is gold. The name of the game is not just about getting the letter in front of the reader or the de rigueur acknowledgments. The real payoff comes by standing out amid the clutter and writing copy from the heart, not the brain, to make donors feel like they make things happen.