S(p)ending Money to Make Money
There's a lot of money in the mail these days. Over a period of about six weeks, I racked up $4.65 in cash and checks from nine different nonprofits. Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge sent a quarter, and Soldiers' Angels mailed a dollar bill. I also received a $1 Council of Indian Nations check, and the National Humane Education Society sent me a check for two bucks. Both nonprofits assured me in the first line of the letter that the check is indeed real … but they hope I won't cash it.
It's your nickel
The remaining 40 cents arrived mostly one nickel at a time. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) each sent me a nickel, attached to a sheet of address labels. They all phrase their messages slightly differently but use the coins to "make a point." The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society says the least about the nickel, but it's still central to its offer from the "How can 5¢ save a child's life?" envelope teaser to the "Let me tell you …" headline inside.
In lieu of a letter, the center panel of a sheet of address labels has a short note that says in part, "You and I both know that a single nickel won't go far in the fight against blood cancers. But nickels can quickly add up. And if you invest those nickels in blood cancer research that is searching for cures, you could save not only one child but thousands of patients!"
A few simple sentences say it all, and combined with the cheerful cartoon characters on the labels, this nickel offer looks like a winner to me.
VFW and PVA both address the value of a nickel. "When you and I were growing up, 5¢ seemed like a lot of money …" PVA's lead read, "… and it's still an invaluable amount to a veteran suffering from a spinal cord injury. Let me tell you why …" VFW writes that "a simple nickel is inspiring people across the country — caring Americans like you — to help our nation's war wounded." Both organizations ask for $15 gifts followed with "(that's 300 nickels)," and both do an excellent job of describing what that $15 contribution can do: "match the VA allocation for about six days" and "provide 375 minutes of phone time to a hero who desperately needs to hear comforting voices of family."
Mothers Against Drunk Driving's explanation of the nickel offer is unique, as well as poignant. It begins at the bottom of the first page of the letter after several paragraphs telling the story of a young woman killed by a drunken driver:
"As painful as it is, Jerry and Paula want me to tell you their story — because they know if they can stop one person from driving drunk or save someone else's daughter, son or loved one from becoming a victim, it will be worth it.
"That's why I have enclosed the nickel. I sent it to make a point.
"You see, powerful opponents of tough drunk driving laws — like the alcohol industry's lobbyists — talk about Alisa Celentano and other victims of drunk driving as if their lives were just nickels and dimes, or columns on some accounting ledger."
The letter goes on to say that you wouldn't think much about losing a nickel, but if you lost 12,000 of them, or $600, you'd notice. Then it asks you to imagine that each of the 12,000 lost coins represents the life of someone killed by a drunken driver, because that's how many people drunken driving kills annually. It's a nice tie-in with Alisa's story and helps make the nickel meaningful beyond its monetary value.
Brother, can you spare a dime?
Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) affixed two nickels to a beautifully written letter that begins, "Maybe you've been through a time in your life when you felt you didn't have two nickels to rub together. I think we all have. Brenda, a CAP participant, has lived that way every day for many years."
Then a bit later in the letter, "I hope you'll pray with me today for Brenda and all those who struggle to get by in Appalachia. The two nickels I attached to this letter are a symbol of their plight, and a reminder that it takes so little to improve their lives."
A lot of people who review direct-response copy hate clichés and won't allow their use. Pity, because they can be quite effective, as in the close of the CAP letter. "When those of us who have more than two nickels to rub together share with those who don't, God can work miracles for people like Brenda."
Three brief mentions of the coins in this two-page letter, and every one of them is a cliché I can't help but love. And I bet CAP's donors do, too. FS