Do “Sticky” Ideas in Direct Mail Work?
Books that delve into messaging, brand awareness and the psyche of giving have become great tools for learning more about donors and what makes them tick. But can these concepts, developed mostly from major giving examples, be applied to direct mail? We all know direct mail is a strange beast: dare we assume these “new” ideas will work for everyone, every time?
One of the more recent books to cross our desks is Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. If you’ve read it, we’re sure you agree that it’s a fascinating read.
The book is based on six principles that make an idea “stick”:
- Simplicity — short, profound statements are powerful. Focus on the message’s core — think “proverbs.”
- Unexpectedness — generate lasting interest. Create a gap in people’s knowledge to make them curious.
- Concreteness — make ideas clear so everyone understands them. Explain ideas through (many) real examples.
- Credibility — make people believe your idea. Use vivid details, use statistics to illustrate a relationship (rather than a number) that people will remember.
- Emotional — tap into people’s feelings to make them care about the idea.
- Stories — the right stories can inspire and make people act.
But can implementation of these ideas improve direct mail fundraising results? We were so curious that we decided to test one in particular.
In the chapter on “Emotional”, the authors give an example of how focusing on an individual is “stickier” than focusing on statistics when writing a direct mail letter. In direct mail, we are always citing statistics to establish credibility and make a strong case for giving, so this made us pause.
We decided to test the concept in one client’s acquisition campaign. Two packages were tested against the control (which incidentally is wildly successful and does not include a personal story). The test letters were completely different but the rest of the package, including format and teaser, was exactly the same.
The first test was very similar to the control, and focused on an urgent situation, using statistics of the large numbers of people in need to make the case for support. This package did not have a story or reference to a specific individual.
The second test talked about the same urgent situation, but it used an extremely sympathetic story of a woman and her children to illustrate the severity and the need for support.
So did the story about one person “stick” in the minds of potential donors?
Apparently not; the story test package lost! The response rate and average gift were lower than the statistics test.
So what do we think happened? It’s possible that:
- Maybe this theory doesn’t always work.
- Maybe the story wasn’t emotional or inspiring enough.
- Maybe the statistics were used well — and created credibility — outweighing the emotional pull of the story.
- Maybe this organization’s donors happen to be more analytical than we thought.
So what did we learn? No matter how much a theory makes sense, we need to test it to ensure that it works in a direct mail context — and for the particular organization with whom you are working. Direct mail testing can yield unexpected results, and different things work for different groups. It is important not to assume these new concepts will work for everyone, and especially important not to throw out proven direct mail concepts. We are continuing to test around the “stickiness” concept. Stay tuned!
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The Jewish New Year is right around the corner. And for those who work for Jewish organizations, this means more than just a few days off. It marks one of the most important fundraising times in the entire year.
Success in the world of Jewish direct mail fundraising takes more than knowing the ideal letter length, or how to perform a good test. It means understanding the unique “language” of Jewish fundraising, which tells the Jewish donor that you understand where they are coming from.
Why is it so important to capture the hearts and minds of a relatively small portion of the population? Because of their generous giving power. Today, Jewish giving to Jewish causes is estimated at roughly $9.4 billion a year. This does not include giving by Jews to secular causes, which is a growing trend in the United States.
So how can you be most effective with this audience? As always, start with solid direct mail strategy. But layered on top of that must be an understanding of what works in the Jewish market. Things like mail timing, the requested gift amount, messaging to different segments of the Jewish population and understanding an entirely unique list market are vital to success.
Let’s just focus on the gift requested on the reply. For most organizations a common first gift request in acquisition is $20 or $25 dollars. It’s high enough to offset a good portion of your costs, but low enough to maximize giving.
In the world of Jewish fundraising, an entirely different standard applies. Here we use the “Rule of 18.” Within the Jewish faith, the number 18 corresponds to the Hebrew word for life. Therefore, it is customary to give gifts in intervals of 18.
This can be applied to Jewish fundraising in two ways. In acquisition, test ask strings that begin with $18 or $36 and move up in intervals of $18 ($54, $72, etc). In appeals where the ask string is based on the donor’s previous giving, it is common to round gifts up to the nearest $5 before calculating the ask string. However, you can add an additional instruction to maintain ask amounts that are intervals of 18 to preserve the original meaning of the donor’s gift.
Understanding the unique cultural differences within the Jewish market can have a profound impact on the success of your fundraising campaign. The more you know about this segment of the population, the stronger your strategic approach to fundraising “Jewishly.” Mazel tov!
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Can You E-Append Your Way into Greater Donor Value?
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about the value of integrating mail and online fundraising efforts. You’ve heard that donors for whom you have an e-mail address have a greater value to your organization — even if they never give online!
Intuitively, that makes good sense. If someone has enough trust in your organization to provide you with her e-mail address, then she is probably one of your more committed donors. And, because of that e-mail address, you have a greater opportunity to cultivate your relationship with her through informative e-mails about how her charitable gifts are making a difference, and updated information about the organization.
But, is all of this still true if the majority of your e-mail addresses were not supplied by the donors themselves but through a data append?
As the following data shows — the answer is yes!
We analyzed donor information for an organization that is aggressively building their e-mail file and reaching out to their donors online. Today, 90% of their e-mail addresses were acquired through e-appends.
So how are these donors performing when compared to those without e-mail addresses?
Our analysis showed that donors with an email address:
- Make more gifts throughout the year (1.65 gifts versus 1.24 gifts) …
- Give larger gifts ($25.04 versus $19.94) …
- Have a 28% higher multi—year retention rate …
- Gave almost double the revenue in their first year of giving …
… Regardless of whether the person supplied the email address or it was obtained through an e-append!
The results are clear. If you have a solid e-mail program in place, which provides your donors with regular and meaningful communications about your organization, performing e-appends on a regular basis is a sound strategy that should result in greater donor value for your organization.
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Client Profile: Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati®
Since 1982, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati has offered help, hope and a “home away from home” to families who come to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital from throughout Ohio, across the United States and around the world seeking medical treatment for their critically ill children. At Ronald McDonald House, families have a support network to rely on — a network made up of caring volunteers, professional staff and other families in similar circumstances.
Families enjoy a clean, comfortable room in which to rest, laundry facilities, home-cooked meals prepared and served by volunteer groups and activities for the entire family. Children enjoy a beautiful play garden, arts and crafts room and game room. There is a theater where families can see plays, musical performances and magicians. Parents can work off some of the day’s stress in the exercise room or take a yoga class in the wellness room. Cincinnati’s Ronald McDonald House offers families a respite in which to rejuvenate and be better able to tend to the needs of their critically ill children.
Having served more than 20,000 families since opening its doors in 1982, Cincinnati’s Ronald McDonald House has truly become part of the healing process. Better rested, less stressed parents are stronger and more able to support their children. And, to keep up with the ever-growing need, Cincinnati’s Ronald McDonald House has just recently increased its size. Growing from 48 to 78 guest rooms, the House is now the fourth largest of 284 Houses worldwide. The new 30-room expansion wing features 17 long-term suites for children undergoing organ or bone marrow transplants. There is a new playroom, a wellness room and shared family room, as well as additional laundry facilities.
Lautman Maska Neill & Company has proudly partnered with the development team at Cincinnati’s Ronald McDonald House since August 2007 when they launched a full direct marketing program. Since then, the donor file has grown to nearly 8,000 active donors.
Today, despite the tough economy, the direct mail program at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati has raised nearly double the net profit achieved at this point in 2008. Having committed to a plan to invest in new donor growth, donor retention and stewardship, they have been very successful. Cincinnati’s Ronald McDonald House is a great example of how careful cultivation, acquisition and stewardship can help sustain an organization — even in difficult economic times.
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Production in Action: There Is No “I” in Team, or Why Two Heads Are Better Than One
Want to create the best possible direct mail package? Then involve production managers from the very beginning of the strategic planning process. Their macro approach enables them to see how the package works as a whole — and means that you create the most effective package at the lowest costs.
Want an example? Consider the situation of an organization that traditionally mailed a large annual report to all their donors of $100 and above in a 9 x 12 envelope. Because of budget constraints, they needed an annual report strategy that would cut costs while keeping the mail quantity the same. And of course, the quality of the annual report had to remain excellent.
The production manager, working together with the organization and account staff, determined what the most important aspects of previous years’ annual reports were. Then the production manager presented a variety of alternatives for how the organization could accomplish all of their goals.
It was quickly determined that the size of the package contributed much of the cost — not because of printing but because of postage costs. Simply enabling the package to mail in a 6 x 9 rather than a 9 x 12 (considered a flat) would save tremendous cost.
The production manager anticipated and managed additional challenges, including the need to alter the design of the report so that it worked in the new format, and the need to control the number of pages and the weight of the paper. Working with a talented graphic designer, the team ensured the same level of quality that the larger annual report had.
As a result of this close teamwork, the organization saved money in both postage and printing — and succeeded in sending out a beautiful annual report while spending 40% less!
Of course, full participation by production staff in strategic planning can do more than just save you money. New ideas from people who think about the package differently can help take your direct mail to the next level of creativity as well.
So be sure to use every resource that you can in your direct mail campaign by involving production managers from the earliest stages — and watch your direct mail program soar!
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