DM Diagnosis: What’s New?
After a brainstorming session one day, the Yoda of direct-response fundraising and I were mulling over ideas the group had generated.
“You know,” Yoda said, “there really are no new offers anymore. It was easier to be brilliant before everybody started doing this. Now, you have to find a really good hook, or just the right spin, to make it seem new.”
“We’ll never see a new offer?” I challenged. “Really?”
“Well … maybe we will,” Yoda said. “But do not confuse the offer with the theme or the topic — I’m talking about the deal and what’s in it for the donor. Except for new premiums, which I do not mean, a wholly new offer does not come along often.”
So, we should celebrate the sightings of new twists and increased perceived value infused into some classic offers.
I’ve been inundated with membership cards lately. Some are part of the first renewal notice, others part of a new-member welcome package, a few I suspect are reinstatement efforts, and several are acquisition offers.
Almost none of them come with any real benefits, such as 10 percent off on gift-shop merchandise or free admittance to something. The vast majority have absolutely no utilitarian value — they’re for me to carry in my wallet to feel good about supporting a charity or cause.
The fact that my wallet would need wheels and a retractable handle should I actually desire to carry all these membership cards around with me is testament to the widespread use of the offer. Clearly, it’s working.
But, Yoda would have us ask, can it work better?
Make it harder to throw away
As many of us have seen proven in head-to-head tests, sometimes spending more on a premium pays for itself and then some in increased response. Some mailers, for example, have proved four-color address labels out-pull one-color labels, and four-color with gold or silver foil out-pull no foil. (Indeed, if what I’m seeing from Disabled American Veterans holds up, it looks like four-color labels with gold and silver foil might be the latest winning combination for that organization.)
Membership cards run the gamut with everything from a plain paper perf-out card on the reply device to a tipped-on durable plastic card with silver or gold raised lettering like a credit card.
One unusual membership card arrived from Native American Rights Fund. Showing through a second window on a 6-inch-by-9-inch outer envelope, it’s made of plastic and personalized with my name, though not with embossed lettering. The National Rifle Association sent something similar, but the personalization is in light blue on top of a dark-red stripe in the American flag and it is nearly illegible. Oops.
Interestingly, I see the most credit card-quality membership cards from the conservatives, just a few from apolitical groups like UNICEF, and none at all from the progressives. (But then, from a production values standpoint, the conservatives usually do have the sexiest mail.)
Double your donations
A matching-gift offer is another classic I see with frequency in both acquisition and house mailings. I’ve received at least one every week for the last couple of months, in fact.
Some illustrate the matching- gift offer with coupons, faux checks or “registered documents” requiring my signature. Nearly all “do the math” and spell out how a gift will be matched. And that’s wise.
“Donors aren’t accountants,” Yoda often advised. “Make it easy for them.”
For organizations able to secure matching funds, the offer usually is one of the best performers of the year. And for the lucky few like CARE that regularly receive government grants that can be used as matching funds, it can be a control offer in acquisition year-round.
But what if you don’t have match money? Make-A-Wish recently sent me some “Wishbucks” to buy hope for children who are seriously ill. While this is not a matching-gift offer, it almost feels like one because of the Wishbucks coupons, a familiar component in countless matching-gift packages.
Each of the four Wishbucks coupons has a value based on my gift history, and each has a photo and story of a child’s wish. And the letter gives additional examples of children’s wishes, encouraging me to return one or more of the Wishbucks with my donation made out in the same amount.
There is nothing deceptive about this package, and in no way does it pretend to be a matching-gift offer. But it has taken a successful matching-funds technique and made it Make-A-Wish’s own. Bravo!
Turning trash into treasure
Vietnam Veterans of America and Lupus Foundation of America have an interesting offer in the mail these days. The 5.5-inch-by-7.75-inch closed-face, white outer is addressed to “Resident” and contains only one item: a large plastic bag. No letter, no reply device, no return envelope — none required, because everything is printed on the carrier envelope.
In essence, they’re trolling for junk and, if you’ve got any, you simply put it in the bag and it will be picked up on the appointed day. Both organizations clearly explain that donated items will be sold to for-profit wholesale buyers and proceeds will support the groups’ missions.
But here’s the weird thing: While the Lupus Foundation understandably requests, “Please, no furniture or large items,” Vietnam Veterans of America asks, “Please … no cash donations.”
Wouldn’t it seem any nonprofit organization engaged in junkraising could benefit from a reply envelope inside the package along with the plastic bag? Because even though they’re not using fundraising-responsive lists to hunt for junk (nor are they targeting direct-mail responsive lists at all, in fact), why turn away occasional cash gifts that would at least help cover the cost of the solicitation?
New offers might not materialize every day, but new ways of approaching old ones can. Let us be luminous beings in that endeavor.
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.