From the Ashes
More than 12 years ago when I worked as director of development for an environmental nonprofit, I had just attended such a conference and came back to the office full of the joys of the next “big idea” to create a sustainer program! My team was excited; we contacted our direct-response agency, and off we all went to create the perfect campaign.
I mean, really, how could any true environmentalist refuse this unique and simple way of providing ongoing support to our organization and be able to “go green” at the same time — with reduced mailings? We had just seen how effective using an alternative paper type had been on our supporters — when we went out with our “straw paper” it was the most successful mailing to date. So why not this great idea?
We carefully selected a name for the group, created a distinctive invitation package look, even offered back-end premiums for signing up at various gift levels, including a partnership with American Airlines where donors could earn miles for every dollar donated. Not only did we offer a credit card option, but also an automatic deduction from a checking account or monthly billing. (Remember this is 12 years ago, when deductions from checking accounts — even though common in Europe — were still just getting started in the U.S.)
What a flop! What went wrong? There could be several explanations. We went to the entire mail file instead of going to newly acquired donors and striking while the fire was still burning; we didn’t test specific file segments; we only did a mail campaign (no phone campaign); monthly giving was still fairly new; our Web site didn’t have the capability to offer this option (no organization at this time could boast of having large numbers of online donors); and as it turns out, we simply misread our donors’ likes and dislikes.