If It's Worth Saying, It's Worth Saying Again
Fundraisers know the value of having a strong control package in acquisition. But the fact is, you can have appeal controls too.
Despite what many people think, simple repetition is one of the most powerful tools in your creative arsenal. The savviest fundraisers use it all the time to ratchet up emotion — and results — from their donors.
In marketing psychology, it's known as the "mere exposure" theory of persuasion. The idea is "the more exposure we have to a stimulus, the more we will tend to like it. Familiarity breeds liking more than contempt. Things grow on us and we acquire tastes for things over time and repeated exposure."
Politicians know it all too well. And advertisers have been beating you over the head with it for generations.
But in this case, I'm not talking about the kind of rhetorical recitation of word and phrases that preachers and speechmakers use, though as any evangelist or stump-speaker will tell you, you can't underestimate the hypnotic power of such talk.
No, I'm talking about actually mailing the same package again. To the same audience. At the same time of year. Even if it feels weird.
I've seen the idea get a lot of pushback in some organizations. It seems like cheating, some people say. Or laziness. And donors will remember they got the same package last year and not give.
But actually, none of those things are true. It's perfectly fair, reasonable and responsible to present donors with a message to which they've previously responded well. It's sound strategy based on actual results.
In fact, re-mailing a successful package is standard practice for plenty of smart organizations.
For example, one year we mailed a year-end appeal to a religious charity's housefile. The response rate was 5.94 percent. Very respectable.
The next year we mailed the identical package but with an important strategic difference: We actually mailed much deeper into the file. Because we sent it to people who weren't the best donors, we expected response to drop significantly (but that difference would be overcome by the higher volume of returns).
But because the message had proved its power, the response was only very slightly less: 4.88 percent. Given the big difference in the audiences, it was a pretty good return — especially when we compared it to the cost and risk of trying a new creative idea on an audience that has already supported the existing message.
Yet, as I said, it does feel weird if you're not used to it. So one way you can lower your discomfort is to hedge your bets by positioning the package as a regularly scheduled event: an annual fund, holiday fund, spring fund drive or whatever.
Now, nothing is true for all organizations all the time. But don't be afraid of repetition unless and until it proves itself a bad idea for your particular organization. There's too much to gain not to give it a try.
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.