Don’t Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Best Friends Animal Society, located in the heart of southern Utah’s golden circle of National Parks, is home to as many as 1,500 dogs, cats, horses,
rabbits and other animals. For the past 10 years, the organization had been using the same acquisition package. Although it had done a great job, response rates were dropping, causing the donor file to remain flat.
The situation was dire: If a new package wasn’t created, the file actually would have started to decrease, which could have led to cuts in service.
In a session at the DMA Nonprofit Federation 2006 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. this past February, Robbin Gehrke, senior vice president/executive creative director at Pasadena, Calif.-based direct-response fundraising firm Russ Reid Co., told attendees how BFAS teamed up with the firm to create a strategic plan to grow the file over the next few years while maintaining the then-current average acquisition gift of $25.
The game plan
In order to acquire and retain high-quality donors with a high lifetime value, the plan was to engage donors with upbeat stories about BFAS and then use a strong call to action to generate donations. The then-current control was a relatively inexpensive 24-page booklet that gave a simulated tour of the sanctuary in Utah and had the space to communicate the whole story of the organization. The mailing offered donors the opportunity to sponsor a dog or cat for $17. This would provide food, shelter, vet care and a loving home for one year. And for a donation of $25, the mailing offered donors a subscription to Best Friends magazine in addition to the sponsorship.
A strategy was agreed on to keep the current offer but test four new, radically different creative approaches that could tell BFAS’ story in a way that would increase the number of new donors but maintain the current average gift. The new packages were an improved control package using a similar format; a premium-driven package; a tangible involvement-device package; and a dimensional involvement-device package.
Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4 …
The improved control kept the 24-page booklet format but used a stronger call to action. It also had a two-page spread selling the offer that highlighted what donors would be accomplishing with their donations and what they would receive.
The premium-driven package utilized address labels. This format was a safe bet for improved response rates, although it ran the risk of netting an average gift and lifetime donor value lower than the control. To minimize this risk, BFAS employed a high-involvement copy strategy that asked, “Will you be our miracle?”
A tangible involvement device that gave the donor a way to personally “touch” the recipient of his generosity was used for the third test package. BFAS used a “Love Me” tag that was to be signed and returned by the donor (along with a donation) so it could be hung in the cage of one of the animals. There also was a brochure with pictures and stories of several animals donors could adopt. A copy strategy that said, “Be part of the miracle” was used along with teaser copy on the outer envelope that stressed how donations to BFAS could save a homeless pet.
The dimensional-involvement device actually had an animal treat in the outgoing mail package that would be returned by the donor with a donation. Including the treat made the package three-dimensional. The teaser on the outer envelope read, “A treat for a furry friend enclosed.” The donor also was asked to sign the package with the treat that was to be returned as an additional call to action.
All four tests beat the control in both response and ROI. The response to the improved control was three times that of the regular control; 11 times greater for the premium-driven mailing; 10 times greater for the Love Me tag mailing; and more than 12 times greater for the 3-D mailing.
The Love Me tag mailing had the highest average gift of $26 and was the overall winner, making it the new control.
Now one year later, there’s a huge increase in new donors and the donor file is on a strong growth curve. Looking back, this campaign’s success was based on an aggressive testing strategy that wasn’t afraid to try new creative approaches, with the winning package using an involvement device that spoke to donors’ hearts.
Just as testing was the key to BFAS finding a successful direct-mail fundraising program, any organization can benefit from the continuing evolution that testing allows. The BFAS story shows that this can be accomplished with a well thought-out strategy. Frequent testing also allows your organization to have more than one control that you can rotate to keep your packages fresher in the battle against package fatigue.
Indeed, after patting themselves on the back, BFAS and Russ Reid got back to work to continue testing against the new control. This time, two new formats were created: a less expensive version of the Love Me tag and a Love Me pet place mat in a larger package were mailed against the new control.
The new, large “place mat” format generated the same response as the Love Me tag control but reduced the cost per donor by $2. Holiday gift tag labels also were tested successfully, providing another control.
FS reporter-at-large Cary Castle is a fundraising and membership consultant. Contact: email@example.com.