Ho? Ho? Or Ho?
This year's grab bag of holiday mail was an interesting mix of the "I can't believe there's more!" spectacular array of free gifts and at the other end of the spectrum, the simplest of offers that are simmered down like demi-glace to, "You know what time of year it is. You know what to do. And we thank you for it."
Many of these seasonal packages I have seen before, while others are familiar tunes — but not only is the volume pumped up, it's also in state-of-the-art surround sound.
You know that wild Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog with the Fantasy Wish List? (This year's most expensive gift, for example: his and her watches from Van Cleef & Arpels called "Poetic Wish" — costing $1.09 million. Yikes.) Anyway, in the world of direct-response fundraising and fulfilling a Fantasy Wish List of front-end premiums, here's a doozy:
St. Joseph's Indian School's 2012 Christmas Appeal is a chubby 9-inch-by-9.5-inch inline package with crazy madness inside premium-wise — from the gold foil "Christ Tunpi" teaser on the outer to the matching headline on the letter (it means "Merry Christmas" in Lakota, the first sentence explains).
This package is all about the free gifts "from the Lakota youngsters at St. Joseph's. May these simple gifts of love show our appreciation for your generous support:
- Lakota Dreamcatcher Ornament
- Gold Foil Address Labels
- Holiday Notepads
- Silver Foil Stationery Seals
- Holiday Gift Tags"
Add to the above what's not listed: a 7-inch-by-8.5-inch 2013 year-at-a-glance calendar personalized in my name and a certificate of appreciation on heavyweight stock, also personalized in my name.
If you're a regular reader of this column, then you know how I feel about the importance of storytelling. In this case, St. Joseph's introduces Emily, a 7-year-old who was quiet and hopeless when she arrived a year ago but today is thriving at her loving home-away-from-home where she's getting an education, fed nutritious meals and is warmly clothed.
My favorite part of the letter:
"Then one brisk morning in December, Emily ran by me yelling 'Wah zee ya wana ou! Wah zee ya wanna ou!'
"I had learned various Lakota words and phrases through my years of work on the reservation and now as Director at St. Joseph's Indian School, but this phrase was new to me. Our Native American Studies teacher explained the Lakota phrase the student learned is the English translation for 'Santa is coming.'
"It was then that I realized we had given Emily much more than food, clothing and an education. We had given her the ability to dream and hope. Thanks to friends like you, Emily could finally see past the hopelessness she faced at home. Is there any gift better than sharing the joy of a carefree childhood?"
Now here you are with a lap full of (or a tabletop covered with) holiday gifts from Lakota youngsters like Emily — how could you not want to share a child's joy that Santa is coming? Well done, St. Joseph's.
And while the letter never mentions them where I would have, the reply includes gift coupons with personalized ask amounts to provide a Lakota child with a Christmas dinner, a Christmas present or clothing. Most excellent, and the coupons are both Christmas-y and substantial in design.
St. Joseph's Indian School may also be a pioneer or an early adopter of a new take on the age-old holiday greeting cards offer. In advance of the "Christ Tunpi" bonanza, I received a 9.5-inch-by-6-inch package with a selection of Christmas cards and matching envelopes.
Like a lot of mailers trying to fly under the USPS thickness restriction, the cards are flat and scored rather than folded. But unlike others I've received, this collection is shrink-wrapped with cards facing out, showing on both sides, surrounding the smaller envelopes in the center. Unlike loose cards and envelopes or those that are banded, the shrink-wrap helps contain the cards more securely, and my guess is they are less likely to get mangled in transit — or puff up with air and cause a postmaster to kick your mail.
Not Neiman's, but no less wonderful
You'd never know the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) 4.375-inch-by-9.25-inch, closed-face "VERIFIED SPECIAL DELIVERY" outer contains a 16.5-inch-by-12-inch sheet of a bazillion gold foil and silver foil holiday address labels and seals, a sheet of sparkly silver foil holiday gift tags, and a special money gift safety envelope decorated with red and green Christmas trees to put inside the enclosed return envelope.
OK, all that in itself isn't surprising. What is, and I find it rather delightful, is that the letter never mentions the holidays or a gift. It's a letter about Brian and the hardships he and his wife, Cheryl, faced after he was wounded in Iraq, with an evergreen ask that could be mailed year-round.
So what's such a big deal about this package? It's the 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch insert. On the front there's a vintage photo of two soldiers decorating a Christmas tree out in the forest. "Happy Holidays" and a border surround the black-and-white image in metallic gold ink. It feels old-timey, nostalgic and patriotic all at once.
But then on the back, in a far, far-too-tiny type (mid-single-digit point size) that I've only forgiven DAV for because this insert is so Neiman Marcus Christmas Fantasy Wish List in its intent and impact, is a poem. Patterned after "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," its author, Lance Cpl. James M. Schmidt, titled the poem "Merry Christmas, My Friend."
It's a quiet, enchanting surprise gift without much glam but a whole lot of heart … the kind of piece you hesitate to throw away, which is direct-mail pure gold.
The poem is too long to reproduce here, and there are several versions of it in circulation, but it's worth chasing down. Google it and check out snopes.com's description of how it went old-school viral in 1986 back when Cpl. Schmidt wrote it, on the cusp of the birth of the first commercial Internet service providers.
The lesson here overall? Go big or go small, either way … but in fundraising, and perhaps as it should be also in life, it's not only "the thought that counts," but also what you do with your idea and how creatively you follow through.
Kimberly Seville is a creative consultant and nonprofit copywriter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org