FOCUS ON: LISTS Feeling Exhausted? Your prospecting lists — and you — can get a much-needed pick-me-up with an influx of nams from commercial files.
By ELIZABETH KORSUN and ERIN DOLAN
Even in the face of diminishing returns, fundraisers tend to stick with a “safe” group of prospect lists — in other words, donor files. But these days, if you’re only working with primary-market data to grow your membership, you’re fighting a war of attrition. What an organization really needs to flourish is new blood, an infusion of new people excited to learn about how it’s making the world a better place.
Americans already have shown how spontaneously charitable they can be. A tremendous outpouring of support for tsunami victims came from a staggering number of American households, and the
scenario was repeated after Hurricane Katrina. This charitable support didn’t come from “proven” donors. These are regular folks who want to make a difference.
If you can create a groundswell of support for your cause outside of the usual community of fundraiser supporters, you can create the new revenue streams necessary for advancing your overall mission.
Take Habitat for Humanity, for example. Its mission back in 1976 was to provide a simple, decent place to live for people who lack adequate housing. Today, the organization reports that it has built 200,000 houses, sheltering more than 1 million people in 3,000 communities.
Where do you think Habitat accumulated its new donors? If you guessed catalog, publishing, business and modeling lists, you’re right. On top of that, Habitat gets everyday people from the community to chip in, pick up a hammer and help construct the houses.
If Habitat can do it, so can you. It takes a little ingenuity, some good negotiating, a few successes and even failures to develop a solid strategy of donor-acquisition campaigns outside the traditional fundraising universe.
Following are 10 tips for using new lists to help you breathe more life into your fundraising.
1. Test commercial lists that make sense. Identify mail-order companies and publishers with products and content in sync with your cause. For example, environmental groups have had success with magazines like Yoga Journal and Cooking Light.
2. Use donor overlays on response masterfiles. Large list owners append data from cooperative donor databases to their merged subscriber files. Add “presence of children” in the selection formula, for example, and you can find large numbers of charitable moms subscribing to magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens who won’t hesitate to write checks to help America’s children.
3. Seek relevant selections. Many lists offer selections that would be perfect for your cause. Religious and ethnic enhancements can help you zero in on Catholics or Hispanics who feel obligated to help the church or their fellow Latinos. Combine these with income selections and reach the ones with money to give.
4. Take advantage of today’s modeling services. Many large list owners offer free modeling services, whereby your best donors are matched to a buyer or subscriber file to determine similar characteristics. Then, for just the cost of the list, you have an ongoing stream of prospects who look like your best donors.
5. Develop less costly packages for lead generation. If you’re testing busy business executives, you don’t need four pages of dense copy. State your case, make the call to action, and test the waters. This can work for the rest of the population because the inundation of advertising messages is shortening our collective attention span.
6. Test package inserts. For as low as $30/M, you can place your appeal directly into the hands of hotline mail-order buyers opening packages they ordered for themselves. A health group can find supporters among buyers of health products from such catalogs as Gaiam Harmony. Use the postage, list cost and service bureau savings for more testing.
7. Test magazine and catalog blow-ins. Let the catalogs and magazines pay for postage, and your appeal can go along for the ride. For much less than the cost of the list and postage, you can reach the right kind of buyers and readers for your cause.
8. Negotiate … and then negotiate some more. Most commercial lists already offer a reduced fundraiser rate. It can’t hurt to plead your case for greater reductions. Then ask for selections to be waived too. Commercial list owners need some successes in the fundraising arena and are willing to work with those willing to give it a try.
9. Co-op with like-minded marketers. Some marketers give a percentage of their proceeds to causes they support. This might require some real out-of-the-box creativity and networking, but there are synergies to be found.
10. Develop Internet traffic. Many of today’s donors aren’t sealing envelopes and
mailing them. They’re using PayPal and submitting credit card numbers online. The Web is a cost-effectivetool for new-donor acquisition. Bring people to your portal, and they will join the cause.
If you examine usage on the top fundraising lists, it begins to get redundant fast. Everyone is mailing the same files. In some cases you’re paying double or triple the base rate after the merge-purge. Then when you get a donor list to work, you might find the list owner restricts usage to only one turn of the file per year.
Retention rates are dropping because there is so much competition for the proven donors. How many causes is one person going to support? Plus, more expensive premiums are becoming increasingly necessary to attract and keep donors. Now factor in rising paper and postage costs.
All of this works against the primary objective of continually recruiting fresh members to the mission. The organization’s effectiveness is directly correlated to the ability to find new people willing to take up the cause, send money and influence others to do the same.
There are the universally admired causes that can find a sympathetic heart on any list. Who can argue with finding a cure for cancer, preventing birth defects, ending hunger? Then there are issue-oriented, polarizing causes that can only rally the troops from specific types of interest lists. Strategically exploring commercial markets can breathe new life into your membership.
Elizabeth Korsun is a vice president, data acquisition, and Erin Dolan a senior broker, data acquisition, at ALC, a Princeton, N.J.-based list-management company. They can be reached through www.alc.com.
More Lessons From the Other Side
Nonprofits can benefit by adapting creative concepts from their commercial counterparts.
By ROBERT LEROSE
Mounting a convincing sales argument requires mastering the keys of persuasion, including an in-depth understanding of, and empathy with, the prospect; fluency in your product; a bold, believable, clearly defined promise; proof of your claims; and organization of your sales argument in a captivating presentation.
The purpose of direct mail, whether commercial or nonprofit, is to persuade the recipient to take decisive action that will benefit both him and the mailer — to respond favorably to an offer or, in the case of nonprofits, an appeal.
You can draw on common commercial copywriting techniques, adapt and apply them to non-profit copy.
Unique selling proposition
In a commercial letter, the unique selling proposition shows the prospect the one clear way the product is superior to its competition. It distinguishes itself from the pack. Nonprofits can follow this lead by separating and distinguishing themselves from similar organizations in donors’ minds. This is critical when the organization’s identity isn’t well known, or its mission overlapswith a competing charity.
Commercial mailers often will include, “This is the only resource that … “ in their copy and state what makes the product unique. Adapting this to read, “Our organization is the only one that …” or, “Our organization is in the best position to accomplish this because … “ forces you to forge a clear, unforgettable identity in the donor’s mind.
Commercial copy abounds with talk of benefits the prospect will enjoy from replying. The same rule applies for nonprofit copy. A benefit is an aspect of a product or service that improves the buyer’s life. What benefits can a fundraising appeal offer to a potential donor? Here are a few: The donor will feel good about himself, get a tax break,participate because it’s the right thing to do, counter the effects of a sudden emergency, carry on work consistent with his values, make a difference in someone’s life, obtain a premium, and so on. Some of these benefits areintangible, so it’s good when you can translate them into something material.
Commercial copy immerses the prospect in the product experience. It conveys ownership through
emotional triggers and specifics. A donor should feel involved in your mission. How can she participate, beyond writing a check? Bring her into your efforts. Explain the vital role she plays in personal, attention-getting terms. Make her a passionate partner in your work.
People make buying decisions with their emotions and justify them with reason. Given a choice between appealing to the intellect or to the emotions, emotional appeals win hands-down. Commercial and nonprofit direct mail overlap in using vivid, emotional copy.
The great motivators are described as greed, guilt, fear and exclusivity. Anger is a staple of
nonprofit copy. Guilt (or the fostering of a conscience) is practically a given for any letter seeking to do good work. Fear, too, is a powerful prod (“These terrible things will happen if you don’t act now … “). Exclusivity flatters a prospect, painting him as part of a select group that recognizes the importance of your mission.
Talk in human terms
Good commercial copy focuses on the prospect, not the product. We sell to people, one at a time. We relay human-interest stories and anecdotes. The same is true in nonprofit copy. Show the effect of donors’ dollars; find the human drama in the policies you’re lobbying for; describe the cost of failing to act now in human terms. Whether the funds are for a new building, a protected piece of land or research to find a cure, pull out the human story.
Nonprofit and commercial mailers must address the issue of credibility. Testimonials and endorsements from objective third parties
accomplish this. A celebrity or well-known person consistent with the nonprofit’s image builds credibility, legitimizes your efforts and creates a halo effect of authority and assurance.
Call to action
“Send back the reply card while it’s still in your hand” is a familiar refrain in commercial copy, pushing the prospect to act quickly. Nonprofit copy also can fight procrastination by asking the recipient to take action right away — provided you give a compelling reason to do so. Why is it necessary to act now? Tie your urgency to something real.
Reassure the donor his money is put to good use. Tell him how each dollar will be spent — what it will buy, what it will be used for — so the donor is guaranteed the cause to which he pledged money will
Robert Lerose, a freelance copywriter with 20 years’ experience, specializes in direct-response advertising. Reach him at 516.486.0472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.