The second installment in our year-long series on fundraising basics focuses on acquisition.
Huntsinger & Jeffer Inc.
Recession is looming. Direct mail is dying. E-mail has fallen short of its bright promise. Donors are cynical. Contributions are drying up faster than the ice caps are melting. It seems like everywhere you turn these days, prophets of doom are predicting dark times ahead for fundraising. If you’re not careful, you might almost start to believe that things aren’t going so well. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath. Yes, there is cause for concern. But there also are plenty of good reasons to hold on to your seat and ride out the storm.
No one has taught me more about effective communication than Richard Nixon. I was 21 when the White House tapes were published. And as much as I loved the inside view of the politics, I was even more taken by reading those verbatim transcripts of actual speech. Listen to Nixon speaking about Vietnam: “ … we have to take the hard line now. We’ve got to — we’ve got to keep our guys flying out there. It’s all we can do. We have no other choice. And if you start indicating anything about ceasefire or coalition government or anything like that we’re not
“The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.” — Tom Waits There’s this economics professor, a pretty cynical guy, who sometimes starts his classes by inviting a student up to the front of the room. He holds out a dollar bill and says, “Here, take this.” The student reaches out and the professor immediately snatches the dollar back. Then he holds it out again, the student reaches again, and again he snatches the dollar back. After repeating this three or four times, the student gives up, annoyed and somewhat embarrassed. The professor turns to the class and says, “That,
Sure, e-philanthropy is hot, but most nonprofit organizations still rely on direct mail as their fundraising workhorses. And the outer envelope is the wrapper for your all-important ask. It’s the first thing recipients see, feel and interact with.
As such, it requires a well- reasoned strategy that depends a lot on an organization’s mission, target audience and competition in the mail. Something that works for an advocacy group might not be right for a health organization. One thing that worked 10 years ago might still fly, while another favorite tactic could flop. It’s a testing game for each organization.
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.