And the Survey Says: You score points with donors when you let them know you're listening
You matter. You have significance. You are important. You are wanted and valued.
That's what donors hear loud and clear if you do a good job. No matter what subject you write about, that's your subtext. You're giving them a sense of belonging and the chance to feel good about being on the team that is steadily moving the needle of progress forward.
We can and should tell donors all these things, often, in as many ways as we can. But we can also show them with involvement devices that say to them, "Your thoughts and ideas, your concerns, and your vision are things of interest to me."
One classic offer goes by many names: the survey, the ballot, the opinion poll, the questionnaire, etc. Because we human beings tend to be an opinionated lot, survey packages are fairly popular and a good old standby for many mailers. Too many aren't living up to their potential, however.
A peeve and a pitfall
- Don't just slap a deadline on your survey. Yes, deadlines are good; we know that. But a return due date or ìwithin 10 daysî by itself is weak. Why is your survey time-sensitive? Make your explanation believable, and your deadline is more credible. Judicial Watch has a nice line, for example: "Since we make special arrangements for the timely processing of your answers, I hope you can complete your Survey and return it to us within 10 days."
- Don't make it look like too much work. There's no universal right answer on how many questions are ideal — that's something you have to test to find what works best for you. But whatever the number of questions, your survey should appear easy to fill out quickly. The last thing you want is for your donors to set it aside to deal with later — because "later" doesn't happen.
- Don't formulate hyperbolic questions. The less believable your survey or poll is, the more it descends into direct-mail gimmickry.
Now, beyond what not to do, here's a look at some interesting offers of late.
The 'Secure Carrier' ballot
The Heritage Foundation has a place mat-sized inline "Tax Increase Ballot" package with a couple of attention-getting twists. The "Secure Carrier" snap-pack ballot is spot-glued to the top of the letter. It has explicit directions printed on the back reinforcing the message on the first page of the letter, which reads: "For the accuracy that is essential if this Ballot project is to have the clout it needs in Washington, D.C., it is important that each Ballot assigned to your state be submitted by an eligible recipient.
"ìTherefore, if you do not wish to have your opinions considered in this year's urgent debate over taxes and spending, please return your Ballot unopened so we may select another taxpayer to represent your community."
Repeatedly in the letter and one last time in the postscript it hammers home that "all ballots issued must be returned," which likely increases response.
Alternatively, the 'you and only you' model
In contrast to the Heritage Foundation's offer, Judicial Watch's "2011 Critical Issues Survey" is explicitly nontransferable. From the teaser on the outer envelope right down to the instructions on the survey itself, it states again and again, "Please note: this Survey is registered in your name and is not transferable."
The letter begins with donor-centered copy, about how I am among a select number of politically active conservatives being asked to participate in the survey, how I have earned a place in this special group, etc., and how the survey is exclusively for my use.
Overall, the package is a well-crafted offer, but it includes one unexpected surprise — a lift note from Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, the guy who made headlines in the 2008 elections. Apparently Judicial Watch is representing him free of charge in his lawsuit in a federal appeals court in Ohio. His note praises the organization and includes a soft ask but has no mention of the survey. It's a bit of an odd addition to the offer and off-topic given the issues covered in the letter and the survey — but there it is.
An impressive quadruple-duty format
The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) recently mailed a 14-inch-by-8.5-inch inline "2011 Truth About Gun Owners Poll" package that's bold in its design and format. Aside from the billboard-style teaser and graphic, I was intrigued by small teasers at the bottom of both sides of the outer, "HANDLE WITH CARE / CARBON COPIES ENCLOSED."
The poll is the centerpiece of the package, printed on carbonless copy paper, actually. NRA-ILA wants my opinions, yes, but it also wants to share them with my two senators and representative in Congress. Whereas many organizations might have done a simple petition campaign, NRA-ILA mixes it up with this intriguing alternative means of sending a message to Congress.
In the finished piece, sheets making up the poll are of varying length, each personalized with the legislator's name at the bottom. Instructions at the top of the poll request: "Use a ballpoint pen and press hard because you are making four copies. Please sign where indicated to validate your answers."
The design is strong and eye-grabbing, and it has a tactile wow factor as well, with the feel of the carbonless copy paper and the step-like pages. It's a very distinctive package, although not one many mailers can afford.
That doesn't mean, however, that it's impossible to create an amazing survey offer within even the smallest production budget.
No matter what shape your survey takes, you mail a winner when your subtext says to your donor: "You have my attention. In a noisy crowded room, it's your voice I'm concentrating on. You're the one whose thoughts I want to hear, because you matter to me."
So go forth, and actively listen.
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org