The horrific tsunami in the Indian Ocean late last year brought instant and gratifying responses from myriad governments, private donors, the military and nonprofit organizations from around the world. Among them was Oxfam America.
Oxfam America was founded in 1942 by a group of Quakers, social activists and Oxford academics who called themselves the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in response to the plight of refugees in Greece.
Today, Oxfam America is one of some 3,000 partners of Oxfam International in 100 countries that operate under the following vision statement: “We believe that the empowerment of local organizations is a vital aspect of sustainable poverty alleviation and an important dimension of the achievement of civil and political rights.”
Trying the tried and true
Oxfam’s long-term control mailing is a fascinating, no-nonsense fundraising effort that slaps the wrist of its glitzy competitors. Check out the first paragraph of the letter:
Dear Friend, Here’s what you won’t find accompanying this letter:
- address labels that “guilt trip” you into giving;
- an expensive calendar that you don’t need (and we can’t afford);
- a vague-sounding petition addressed to somebody in Washington;
- or heart-rending photos that play on your emotions.
What you will find is a straightforward case for one of the most effective humanitarian aid agencies anywhere in the world. …
P.S. There are more than enough calendars, address labels and other gimmicks arriving in your mailbox. But I’m willing to bet there’s no other organization that’s capable of doing more good with every dollar you send than Oxfam America does. Please join us.
The basic mailing consists of just four elements: No. 10 carrier envelope; a three-page letter (two nested sheets of paper); order card; and business reply envelope with the de rigueur handwritten request in the upper left-hand corner: Your first class stamp helps save us money!
The order card responds to the letter in the reader’s voice: I don’t want gimmicks. I want to help Oxfam America fight hunger and poverty. I am enclosing a special donation of:
__$25 __$35 __$50 __$100 __Other $____
So no question exists as to what Oxfam America wants, the $35 is circled, and a handwritten note under it states, “This amount would really help!”
It’s well known that an organization will collect far more money in a fundraising effort if its DM asks for a specific amount from a donor.
The back of the order card offers additional ways to donate, including by credit card or by becoming a monthly Pledge Partner, either through an automatic credit card charge or with a monthly reminder to send a check.
The general consensus in the fundraising universe is that the last option is one of the least appealing ways to secure donations, since there is no guarantee that donors will uphold their end of the bargain.
Many organizations, as a matter of fact, won’t consider a donor to be a monthly sustainer if he or she hasn’t arranged for automatic credit card charges or electronic funds transfers.
In many of the mailings, a simple yellow slip of paper with black type alerts the reader about starvation in Ethiopia or earthquake victims in El Salvador. And sometimes, there’s a four-color brochure that describes Oxfam’s work around the world.
This technique departs from traditional direct mail. Normally, the letter is the piece that is “versionalized,” with the writer making a guilt-laden, emotional connection with the reader about a specific tragedy or need. In that case, the four-color brochure is the constant — the “it” copy that describes the product or service.
A two-color, inexpensive letter can be written, printed and mailed in a day, whereas the four-color brochure takes time to produce and is usually stockpiled in order to take advantage of lower costs in quantity printing. Here the Oxfam letter packs the emotional wallop, so it’s the brochure that is versionalized.