Not so long ago, direct mail personalization meant slapping a donor’s name and address on a form letter and calling it a day. It was a statement: The more personal information an organization presented in a solicitation to Mr. Sample, the greater his significance. How times have changed — sort of.
It’s a frustrating nuisance — that pesky reply device. The sorry, little stepchild of the fundraising package. Underutilized. Misunderstood. Occasionally ignored. Treated with faint disdain.
Tradition has it that the reply form was invented around 1924 and evolved via two genetic streams. For commercial mail, it became a dynamic ingredient of the mail package.
When I started the cranky little newsletter, Who’s Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail) in 1984, I persuaded America’s premier liberal democratic fundraiser, Roger Craver, of Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co., to write a three-part series on the opposition — the then-current republican efforts that were superb in terms of elegance, sophistication and power. Craver wrote:
High in the pantheon of elegant fundraisers is Mothers Against Drunk Driving, whose only business is public education.
This, in opposition to many charities that only claim it’s their business. A particularly egregious example occurred during the early 1990s, when Somali poachers were decimating herds of elephants (and occasional tourists who got in the way) in neighboring Kenya and selling the ivory.
On weekends, I used to hitchhike from Illinois to Kansas to see my girlfriend, and whenever my thumb successfully caused a motorist to pull off onto the side of the road, I would say, quite sadly, “Hey, will you give a guy a lift?”
Today, I’m still looking for a good lift. A good lift note, that is. Something to give my letter a boost. To move it on down the road … (Ever notice how analogies break down when carried out to their logical conclusions?)
A change to the United States Postal Service’s Cooperative Mail Rule went into effect late last year, permitting nonprofit mailers to partner with third-party, commercial fundraising firms while still retaining the ability to mail at nonprofit postal rates. Previously, if a nonprofit group entered a joint venture with a for-profit company, any resulting mail would be ineligible for the nonprofit rate.
In the last issue, we examined the masterful “thank-you” mailing from Disabled American Veterans that featured patriotism and guilt as the copy drivers. This time, let us look at a long-running control from the World Wildlife Fund that sticks five sharp knives in the reader’s gut — fear, guilt, anger, greed and salvation.
What’s more, this renewal effort (that also is used in acquisitions) is a model of simplicity. For all the razzle-dazzle, high-tech printing and production techniques available, it often is the simple printed letter that packs the biggest wallop and costs the least in the mail.
The past few years have proven to be challenging for direct marketing fundraising. When you consider the 2001 terror attacks and the ensuing questions about dispersement of funds contributed as a result, Anthrax scares, the war on terrorism, corporate distrust, the recent Catholic Church opprobrium and the troubled economy, it’s no surprise that fundraisers have felt left out in the cold.
Saving money is imperative in today’s economy. With budgets being slashed and revenues down, nonprofit organizations are under tremendous pressure to cut costs. It’s a challenge, especially when trying to maintain an appropriate image.
In direct mail print production, doing more with less always has been the name of the game. But now more than ever, finding hidden savings means reviewing all the options — suppliers, equipment and the many factors that influence cost, including paper, sheet sizes and printing techniques.
What to do? A legend in direct marketing comes up with an idea for your nonprofit, an idea that would increase donations dramatically. But it’s an idea that goes against the very core of your mission.
If you’re Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, you reject it. You send direct marketing guru Jerry Huntsinger away and quietly hope he’ll come back.