A Compelling Case for Monthly Giving
What's not to love about a monthly giving program, right? It's a reliable source of steady money and very efficient compared to other types of fundraising programs. But acquiring new monthly donors isn't a snap for most nonprofits, and monthly giving programs can be a struggle to launch — especially on a small budget.
I rarely receive monthly giving invitations by mail, but that's not surprising since many nonprofits find telemarketing yields much better results, at least until they can afford to try direct-response television.
Child-sponsorship groups have used DRTV for decades to attract new monthly donors, with enviable success. But one of those organizations is including direct mail in its acquisition efforts, interestingly.
While it can't compare to the experience of a television spot, Plan USA's sponsor-acquisition package is an innovative standout in the mail.
The piece looks like a manila file folder, complete with a die-cut tab printed with "ALEX — AGE 12, AFRICA" and has a handwritten list of dates, each followed by "no sponsor available." The folder-like outer is spot-glued shut, as is the right panel inside, creating a pocket to hold the letter, reply, BRE and an insert.
Inside on the left, below a colorful world map, two columns of copy describe the organization and what it does. On the right, actors Beau Bridges, Laurie Metcalf and Dan Futterman offer celebrity testimonials beneath their photos. Bridges' quote says he's been a Plan USA sponsor for more than 27 years, an impressive endorsement. Metcalf is the spokesperson in Plan's television spot, and her quote is straight out of the ad, reinforcing the DRTV messaging.
As a whole, the letter is well-crafted, although I'd change the opening. It reads: "Since I became CEO of Plan USA — one of America's largest child-sponsorship organizations — new supporters who want to make a tangible difference in the lives of some of the world's poorest children have expressed many different priorities."
The next paragraph is about how some people want to sponsor a boy, others a girl, or a child from Africa or another part of the world. Then:
"But the request we hear most often?
"Tell me about the child who's been waiting the longest."
Ah-ha, there it is. The hook … the thing that reels the potential new sponsor right in. I'd kill that first paragraph and get to this juicy copy quicker. I'd also add some "you" copy. This offer is all about the one-to-one relationship a donor can have with a child in need — "you" copy should be pervasive.
And the story, irresistible
"These are the children who have been waiting the longest, and their stories will break your heart.
"There are children like Alex, a 12-year-old boy who recently watched both his parents die, leaving him with a burden no child should face: caring, alone, for four younger brothers.
"He tends to their needs with the gentle love of a parent, washing them in the bowl that serves as a bath, feeding them from sparse dishes containing a thin and grainy mixture that is far short of the nutrients a child needs, rocking them gently to sleep."
The rest of page one and the top half of page two continue Alex's story in moving detail — how he does not go to school, fearing for his brothers' lives, and he often goes hungry, and so on.
The explanation of how sponsorship works and what's in it for me follow, along with an explanation of Plan's approach to community development and how my monthly gifts will be used.
"And all of it begins in the moment that someone like you decides to sponsor a child. … It's a moment when you tell the child who's waited the longest: You don't have to wait anymore."
The letter concludes with a postscript that nicely restates the offer and the ask:
"P.S. When you sponsor a child through Plan USA, your support is invested in projects like schools and medical care and safe drinking water that provide the infrastructure for a better life.
"And the life your sponsorship changes most of all might very well be your own. From the photo we'll send of your sponsored child right away, to the correspondence you'll be able to begin, to the updates we'll provide to you on our work in his or her community, your sponsorship will be the beginning of an inspiring and personal relationship.
"Right now, thousands of children are waiting for precisely that. For one of them — for the child who's waited longest — you can make today the beginning of a new life filled with the hope they've been denied too long. Please become a Plan USA sponsor today."
Solid ending to the letter, but I'd skip the first paragraph and focus on the relationship rather than how the money will be spent — there's more than enough copy about that all over page three.
Next, a four-color insert on glossy stock offers pictures and more children's stories under the headline, "Somewhere a Child Waits …" continuing the theme. It's curiously blank on the back, though. That space could be used to tell the stories of more children or perhaps for testimonials from sponsors about how their sponsored children changed the donors' lives in wonderful ways.
The reply card includes check boxes for my preferences about the child I'll sponsor with "The child who has been waiting the longest" topping the list. It also offers options to pay monthly, quarterly, semiannually or annually by credit card or check, and an "I cannot sponsor a child but would like to help" with a $25, $35, $50, $100 ask array. And at the very bottom, "I would like to learn more about sponsorship. Please send me information about the child I could sponsor."
This is the model of "leave nothing on the table" marketing. And when it comes to the difficult challenge of acquiring new monthly donors, that's a must. FS
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.