Case Study: Spin 'Em a Yarn
In the search for a happy medium between esoteric jargon and more elementary copy, narrative could be the golden mean.
The National Audubon Society arrived at this crossroads in fall 2003. Faced with the challenge of mailing a letter that talked about the connection between members’ interests in conservation and science in an engaging way, Audubon turned to storyteller Carolyn Rapp.
The organization sent out its first mailing penned by Rapp late last year. The new approach, according to Agnes Fitzmaurice, Audubon’s annual giving manager, was influenced by “messages that were tested with focus groups.”
“One of those messages was bringing the idea of conservation home,” she adds.
The mailing that dropped in late March was enclosed in a yellow, 6-inch-by-9-inch envelope featuring the teaser copy: “More ways to help more birds and have more fun doing it!”
Sent to current members and donors, new members, and recent renewals, it includes a four-page letter; four-color, double-sided buckslip; order card; and BRE.
A letter with allure
Beginning with “Dear Auduboner,” the letter emphasizes Audubon’s commitment to helping citizens protect nature through programs such as the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count and Audubon at Home programs.
“We wanted to bring it down to a human story level and ... tell stories of how people are involved ... and what it’s doing for them,” Fitzmaurice explains.
The letter strives to convey this message on the first page, stating: “A man joins a group of fellow bird enthusiasts in a marsh on Long Island one day late in December to count birds. His participation — along with 56,000 others — in Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count provides vital information to the longest-running survey and largest database in ornithology in the Western Hemisphere and helps guide our work to protect critical bird habitat.”
The storyteller strategy has proven to be a successful one, bringing in 2 percent more than the net income originally forecasted. Fitzmaurice says: “The focus of this mailing is driving the average gift higher. This format of telling stories is very effective, because talking about ecospheres can be very dry.”
Through Rapp’s storytelling, the letter transcends the weight of scientific language, transporting the reader into a more lush, literary read.
Audubon also uses storytelling to create urgency. Interspersed with stories of how members benefit from Audubon’s programs is text that ignites a sense of impending doom by stressing dangers such as “the increasing threats from habitat loss and degradation” and the vital need for these programs so scientists are aware of how the West Nile virus is impacting bird species.
“People in our file will respond to different kinds of things,” Fitzmaurice says. “Some respond to ‘the sky is falling, send us money.’”
Balancing the empowerment members gain from their involvement with imperative news about declining species increases Audubon’s chances of eliciting responses from members moved by eloquent stories as well as those ignited by “the sky is falling” rhetoric.
This article originally appeared in the July 2004 edition of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication of FundRaising Success. Log on to www.insidedirectmail.com.