Leading the Charge
“From the beginning, I knew that good program drives good fundraising,” he adds. “And I really believe it’s a 50/50 kind of solution. Fifty percent of it is fundraising; 50 percent of it is program. And there is no good fundraising without good program.”
But what about the strategy?
Integration, from the start, has been the driving force behind WWP’s success. But it didn’t start with direct mail and branch out from there.
After Melia’s initial efforts to create and deliver backpacks of essentials and extras for returning wounded veterans (see “Wounded Warrior Project History” ), he created a Web site to “sell” the Wounded Warrior Backpacks, asking donors for $99 to provide one filled backpack to one returning wounded vet. It wasn’t until a year later that direct mail became part of the equation, and that was mainly because the organization was looking to build an endowment.
Coming from the nonprofit world — though not as a fundraiser — Melia knew his way around a housefile and knew enough to know that veterans organizations do well in the mail. WWP partnered with Maryland-based direct-mail marketing and fundraising agency Creative Direct Response and kicked off the direct-mail portion of its fundraising efforts.
As with most organizations, direct mail has been the backbone of WWP’s fundraising, but every direct-mail piece pushes donors and potential donors to the Web.
“We want to convert [everyone] into someone we can communicate solely online with,” Melia says. “We would love that, and we put that into all of our direct-mail pieces: ‘If you would like to become an online donor, please go to www.woundedwarriorproject.org and sign up.’
“Our conversion rate isn’t high yet, but we’re working on it,” he adds.
The five-person development team at WWP, headed by Executive Vice President of Resource Development Jeff Searcy, currently is working to harness the runaway popularity of social-networking sites, especially in terms of viral video, and hopes to hire young, wounded vets to take on the project. Melia admits that even the fresh-faced WWP doesn’t have a solid social-networking plan just yet, but it’s not something any nonprofit can afford to ignore.
Related story: Tips From John Melia, Wounded Warrior Project