The Oldest Fundraising Trick in the Book Still Works
Fundraising techniques come and go. One year it might be the six-page letter; another the e-mail video. One year might be the latest social-media platform; another it's the back-end tote bag.
All of them matter. All are important. Today, though, I come to sing the praises of an old standby that has quietly and consistently lifted response rates for as long as there has been direct mail. So let us take a moment to recognize the Gordie Howe of direct-mail fundraising techniques, the humble, venerable involvement device.
Involvement devices are the myriad little stamps, stickers, surveys, sticky notes, vouchers, bounceback cards, pennies, dimes and dollars that readers are asked to tear off, peel off, paste on, fill out or otherwise physically engage with. These add-ons give donors a tactile experience that goes beyond simply reading the letter.
AllBusiness.com says, "The theory is that a greater involvement will bring a higher response from the reader. A good example of this type of device is Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes packages designed by Henry Cowan, a major proponent of the involvement device theory; these packages often utilize a stamp sheet."
Actually, it's hardly a theory anymore. Involvement devices have been tested in so many variations and under so many circumstances that their effectiveness is a generally accepted fact.
They're especially powerful in acquisition, where you need every advantage you can get, because your package has to do double duty. In addition to grabbing attention and delivering a highly emotional message, a prospect package also has to do the grunt work of explaining to readers who you are. Oftentimes this means loading them down with dry facts and dismal figures that interrupt the emotional flow of the message. So keeping the reader in the package, doing something interesting or attention-getting, can make all the difference.
Let's be clear, by the way, that a premium is not an involvement device. It's a bribe. A good, fair, honest and up-front bribe, but a bribe nevertheless.
When people respond to premium offers, they feel they're in a transaction. They're willing to support you, but in return they want more than just a feeling of gratification. They want something tangible that proves to others that they support you. But premiums are a two-edged sword. The reward is higher response, but the price is a less loyal donor.
Involvement devices, by contrast, keep the reader directly, physically involved with your message. They may not provide the same spike in results as a premium, but they also have less blowback in the long run.
Remember, there are no good or bad — or right or wrong — fundraising techniques. There are only those that work in a given circumstance and those that don't.
So definitely test new trends, strategies and ideas. But remember too that old standbys didn't get to be the old standbys by accident. They've stood the test of time for a reason. Donors may be more sophisticated now (or believe themselves to be), but the basic emotions that drive giving have not changed. And every extra second they remain involved with your message still translates into higher gifts and, more important, greater loyalty.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.