Direct Mail Tests That Are Making Big Differences Now!
Editor's Note: This article is based on a session that Tiffany Neill and Amy Sukol presented at the 2011 Bridge to Integrated Fundraising Conference. Click here to download the presentation and see samples of the techniques as well as the actual results referenced here.
In these challenging economic times, every fundraiser is looking for the magic bullet that will increase response rates, average gifts, donor retention and — above all — net revenue! While we don't have the panacea for all your fundraising ills, we see four trends in direct mail testing that are making big differences now.
But please — don't just take our word for it. Every donor file is unique, so please conduct a properly constructed test before adopting any of these techniques!
Trend #1: Techniques that make your donors feel special.
Now more than ever, donors to your organization need to know that they are important to you. The following simple techniques can show your donors that you know who they are — and that you care about them.
- Add "supporter since" to your appeal reply form. Recognize loyalty by showing how long a donor has been giving to you. Doing so can actually result in increased response rates and average gifts.
- Reference the donor's city in the letter or on the outer envelope. Letting them know that your work is making a difference in their backyard can increase the number and size of gifts.
- Treat them like high dollar donors. Using higher dollar treatments like a closed face envelope, first class pre-sort postage and an upgrade ask resulted in more net revenue, despite slightly increased costs.
- Invest in the relationship by doing more than asking for money. Cultivation is key. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to your donors.
Trend #2: Give your donors a chance to be part of something.
The contribution that your donors send is their way of being part of your mission. You can increase their bond with the following techniques.
- Membership cards aren't just for members. The inclusion of supporter cards for certain nonmembership organizations increases response rates. It helps them feel more bonded to your organization.
- Let your donors do more than give. Mission-focused involvement devices like petitions, surveys and sign-and-return cards help donors feel more a part of your work.
Trend #3: Make the most of your package components.
Asking donors to do only one thing is a key to success in direct response. But recent testing has shown that in certain circumstances, you can make your package do double duty without harming response.
- Give lower dollar donors a subtle opportunity to become a monthly donor. Including a secondary monthly donor ask on the back of the reply form has had no negative impact on immediate giving. Over time, it results in a small stream of sustainer conversions.
- Add a reply coupon in your newsletter. If your organization has a print newsletter as a part of direct mail appeals, consider adding a reply coupon to the newsletter in addition to the regular reply form in the package. Our testing showed that, for one organization, its presence in the newsletter increased giving.
Trend #4: Ask amounts are more important than ever!
In difficult economic times, donors are more price sensitive. This is an important time to test your amounts to find the right entry point for each segment of your donor file. Here are some tests that have made a difference for our organizations:
- Reverse ask string tests
- Adding $5 to the lowest ask amount
- Presenting a second ask string which adds $5 to every amount
Above all, keep testing. Donor trends are constantly changing. The only way to keep up is to test and retest the assumptions we make about the best way to hold our donors' attention and renew their support.
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It's Almost December 31st — Are You Ready?!
As fundraisers, we have hit our busiest time of year. No doubt you are working around the clock to get your most important mailings of the year out on time. But, have you given thought to your year-end email strategy?
We hope you have a strategy (and copy!) in place, but if you don't, there is still time! The last few weeks — and days — of 2011 offer tremendous opportunity for nonprofits. According to a Network for Good study, 22% of online giving occurs on the last two days of the year. And, if you're not asking your donors for a gift — you can bet someone else is. This is the time to go out with your most aggressive email appeals, and not be shy about asking for money.
Depending on your organization, your year-end email campaign may use one of many themes:
- Focus on tax-deductibility
- Matching gift offer
- Starting 2012 from a position of strength
No matter how you frame your campaign, we recommend that this be a campaign — not one lone email. It is best to create a story arc or a campaign countdown consisting of at least three emails. This helps with message continuity, and gives the donor the sense that they are part of an active community that is depending on their support.
It is important to be specific in your offer — ask for an upgrade and insert a personalized suggested gift amount in the body of the email (and in the ask string on the landing page). Tell the donor what his or her gift at that level can provide, and how it will make a real difference. Around the holidays there is a heightened feeling of philanthropy, but stressing how important the donor is to your organization will help them feel excited about making a gift to support your cause. Make them feel good about giving.
And don't forget to be authentic. Email is a medium that feels really personal so there is nothing worse than an email that sounds like it's a mass communication. Make your copy sound like it's from one person — to one person. Use language that evokes passion, inspires action and creates urgency. Your donors are good, generous people — remind them that you know that!
Once your year-end strategy is in place … please make sure you have an auto-responder thank you message as well as a mailed thank you letter. Thoughtful acknowledgements pave the way for a strong donor bond in 2012!
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Copywriting Tips to Help You Today!
Our early holiday gift to you! Check out our new Copywriting Checklist to ensure that your fall and year-end fundraising letters are the best they can be.
We have just posted our brand new Copywriting Checklist on our website — and you can download a copy here. We hope you'll find it useful as you write and edit all of your direct response and online copy. It includes tips for writing irresistible openings, strengthening the ask in your letter and making sure your PS is working as hard as it can. We have also included bonus tips for writing online copy!
Please check it out. You can also find it on our website, under Resources.
Happy writing and editing!
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Ask The LMN"X"pert!
The LMN"X"pert has received many questions about state regulations and requirements for nonprofits looking to raise money. Fear not, the "X"pert will make it all clear — and e"N"tertaining.
I'm the Director of Development for an organization that feeds homebound elderly. We only work in North Carolina, and I only ask for gifts from people in North Carolina. BUT, we have a website with a "donate" button. Do I need to register to raise money in all the states because I ask for gifts on my website?
Raising money in the NC
The short answer is NO!
You only need to register in those states where you "target [your] message specifically to residents of the state, such as by advertising, taking steps to drive traffic to your website, or otherwise taking steps to direct your message specifically to persons physically located in the state" — or in which you are domiciled. The longer answer is … longer.
When you are up late one night and having trouble sleeping, you can read "The Charleston Principles" from the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO). Go to Page 16 and you can work through the series of questions used to determine if you need to register in a specific state or states.
Simply having a website with a donate button does not trigger registration requirements.
I'm afraid to tell you who I am and what organization I work for. I have a mission that applies mostly to people living in one part of the country — and I really only ask for money from people who live near us. I am properly registered to solicit contributions locally, BUT, over the years, many of my donors have moved — and still give us money. I still mail them. And I'm definitely NOT registered in the state in which they live. Am I in trouble?
The "X"pert says "get thee to a registration attorney and get properly registered to solicit funds in the states in which you are mailing."
First, it's the law. And, second, even if you felt you could get by unnoticed before, the states are watching you. If you pay a fundraising consultant at least $15,000 during the year, or if you have an event that brings in more than $15,000; you need to complete Schedule G of the 990 form for the IRS. On Schedule G, you must list the states in which you are registered to solicit funds. That information can be seen by the public — and by state charity officials! — on sites like Guidestar, among others.
Registration fees are less than the fines the states can impose. Plus, it's always good to be on the right side of the law.
Have a question for the LMN"X"pert? Email us today at firstname.lastname@example.org — and get the expert answers and advice you need from the Lautman team!
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Client Profile: Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
Lautman Maska Neill & Company congratulates the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation as they celebrate the 5th anniversary of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
In 1998, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation began an ambitious undertaking — to build a Museum of national scope to preserve and promote the history and culture of the United States Marine Corps (USMC). With the backing of the US Congress and the USMC, they received authorization to begin raising the funds necessary to build the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located in Quantico, VA.
Lautman & Company (as our firm was then known) was hired for the test acquisition mailing in 1999. The results were breathtaking! Thanks to the incredible dedication of the Marines, the campaign was spectacularly successful, with early acquisition efforts producing significant net revenue for the organization.
On November 10, 2006, an unseasonably warm and sunny day, the Museum was dedicated and opened to the public. Today, more than 2.5 million visitors later, the Museum is world-renowned as the "Marine House" — the central gathering place for all Marines. It is a magnificent testament to the honor, courage and commitment of Marines — and brings to life the history of the United States for all visitors, viewed through the eyes of Marines.
This year, on November 10th — the 236th birthday of the Marine Corps — the Museum will mark its five year anniversary. Lautman Maska Neill & Company is proud to have been a part of this exciting campaign.
Recently, the Foundation passed another milestone — the change of leadership. LtGen Ron Christmas, the founding President and CEO of the Foundation, passed the torch to LtGen Robert R. Blackman, Jr. LtGen Christmas was responsible for bringing the heroic legacy of the Corps to life. Both leaders are committed to the goal of ensuring that the story of all Marines — past, present and future — is reflected at the National Museum in Quantico. LtGen Blackman will lead the Foundation through a second phase of construction, expanding the Museum to add additional exhibition space, a combat art gallery, a combat art studio and a large screen theater.
Lautman Maska Neill & Company has proudly partnered with the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation since 1999, helping to create a lasting testament to the unique history and culture of the United States Marines at the National Museum. In the words of Col Ray Hord, Vice President for Development, "The direct response program conducted by Lautman Maska Neill & Company has been a significant element in bringing forth the National Museum of the Marine Corps. We are deeply grateful for their partnership."
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