Launch an Organization in the Mail? Now? Are you Crazy?
As bleak news about year-end fundraising came out in early 2009, two organizations that had never acquired donors through the mail took the plunge and sent a test mailing. And, both organizations were tremendously successful.
They followed the rules that work for effective fundraising — both had concrete missions and proven track records of success; they mailed prospects who were most likely to support their work; and, both created a compelling package with a strong case for support in a persuasive letter.
MAG America has a 20-year track record of clearing mine-infested acres around the world. Their efforts make it safe for people to farm, children to attend schools, and communities to rebuild after devastating conflicts. Surprisingly, MAG had fewer than 200 individual donors when they decided to test direct response fundraising to find new supporters.
Targeting donors to other international organizations and human interest groups, MAG’s test letter made a very strong case for a $26 gift. An excerpt from the letter demonstrates how a gift from the prospective donor would further their mission…
…Like no other organization, MAG is actively demining areas to reclaim land so entire communities can work, farm, and live their lives without fear.
And you can help us.
All it takes is your $26 gift today.
It costs just $26 for MAG to field one fully trained and equipped deminer for one day — which means your support could help prevent the tragic death of an innocent child, and bring renewed hope and security to a community in urgent need…
At the end of the day, a small part of the world will be safer — and a child will be able to play without danger for the first time in his life — because of you. Will you help?
With such a compelling case, supported by a graphic insert that outlined MAG’s programs in Laos, is it any wonder that MAG was able to acquire hundreds of new donors, each for an investment of less than $30?
The Koby Mandell Foundation relied on fundraising events and direct solicitation of individuals to raise money for their programs in Israel that support men, women and especially children who have lost a family member to terrorism. Born of a tragedy — the murder of Koby Mandell, a 13-year-old American Jewish boy living with his family in Israel — the organization that bears his name offers grief counseling, support and camps where children can begin to heal.
The test mailing the Foundation sent in February reached donors to Jewish organizations, particularly those that support Israeli and children’s causes. The mailing exceeded all expectations, and acquired donors for a very low investment of only $15 each. The letter pulled prospective donors in through its gripping opening:
On the morning of May 9, 2001, the American Jewish community awoke to the news that a 13-year-old boy named Koby Mandell had been brutally murdered by terrorists in Israel.
That day, the front page of every major English-language newspaper carried a picture of me and my family weeping over the shrouded body of our dear, sweet Koby.
For most of the world, Koby’s story ended that day. But for me and my family — and hundreds of others whose lives have been ripped apart by terrorism — Koby’s story and his legacy had only just begun.
For out of the ashes of his brutal murder grew an organization that is helping hundreds of children, mothers and fathers who have suffered similarly devastating losses, find hope, healing and the strength to live productive and purposeful lives…
You see, unfortunately, here in Israel, there is often new sorrow. Beyond the immediate loss of life, these attacks rip apart families and destroy their emotional and physical health. As Koby himself told me just weeks before he was killed, “I feel bad for the people who die in these attacks, but I feel worse for the people who are left behind.”
We need your help to be there for every family who is left behind!
The average gift in response to both the MAG and the Koby Mandell Foundation acquisitions were higher than projected. This was surprising given the economic situation and the lower average gifts seen by many nonprofit organizations at the time. Careful list selection assured that both of these organizations targeted prospects that were most likely to give — bypassing lists in the crowded international market that were not likely to perform as well.
The success of both of these start-up efforts is evidence that even in these challenging times, following the fundamental rules of good direct response fundraising works.
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Email: Simple Ideas to Keep Supporters Engaged
So you’re not an advocacy organization, you’re not lobbying Congress and you don’t have an urgent issue on which to constantly update your supporters. How can you communicate meaningfully with online supporters if you don’t have anything interesting to say to them on a regular basis?
Oh, but you do!
It’s true — charities that provide food, shelter or medical aid may have to be more creative in their online communications than issue-based groups. But, rest assured, you do have ways to engage your supporters and raise money online.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Survey your donors: Survey on their interests, knowledge of your work, and how well they think you’re doing. There are many free survey resources online.
- Provide progress reports: Provide an update on how your organization is doing (goals reached, challenges ahead). Or, take this down a level, and simply update supporters on a beneficiary you wrote about in an appeal.
- Share stories: Ask supporters to share their story — why your organization matters to them (maybe they have a relative that faced medical challenges that your organization works on, etc).
- Send a thank-you video: Send supporters a link to a video of your president thanking them for their ongoing support.
- Ask for a pledge of support: Instead of asking supporters to sign a petition to their Senator, ask them to sign a pledge of support of your organization’s mission or special program.
- Offer e-cards: Tell donors how to send e-cards (use a design that aligns with your mission) to their friends. This engages donors and helps spread the word.
These are just a few simple ways to help you start thinking “outside the box.” Some of these concepts call for more than one email, turning the idea into a campaign.
For example, supporters who do not respond right away to the survey email should be emailed again with a reminder, explaining why their participation matters. Once survey results are tallied, report back! Your supporters will be interested to hear how others responded, and will want to know what actions you’re taking based on the findings. So you see, it’s not difficult to turn one idea into at least three communications!
You’ve spent a lot of time and (probably) money growing your email list. Now, make the most of it! Communicate with supporters, keep them engaged and updated on your work, and if they aren’t yet — convert them into donors!
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Client Profile: Mercy Corps
Since 1979, Mercy Corps has worked to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping millions turn crisis into opportunity. From civil conflict and natural disasters, to economic and political controversies, Mercy Corps has been on the ground around the world supporting those in need.
With 32 programs in 36 countries, Mercy Corps is actively working toward positive change. Through an array of programs in agriculture, education, health, HIV/AIDS and economic development, among many more,
Mercy Corps is a leader in humanitarian aid.
Known as one of the first groups to arrive and the last to leave during times of crisis, Mercy Corps has worked with refugees in Sudan, provided relief in China following the 2008 earthquake and supported AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe — among many other lifesaving programs. Each year, over 10,000,000 lives are affected.
Lautman Maska Neill & Company has proudly partnered with Mercy Corps’ development team since January 2004, helping implement a wide variety of direct marketing strategies.
Mercy Corps was in the unique position of more than doubling the number of active donors during 2005, following the Southeast Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan. Through Mercy Corps’ strong cultivation efforts, they were able to retain 30% of the emergency donors; a remarkable feat to say the least. Today, with an active donor file of approximately 90,000, Mercy Corps is a great example of how being a nimble and responsive organization, with a culture of donor stewardship, can really pay off.
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New Nonprofit List Rental Standards
Earlier this year, nonprofit list professionals came together to issue a comprehensive set of standards for nonprofit list rentals. This is a great example of fundraisers working together — without pressure from regulatory agencies — to codify the best practices within the industry.
Many of the standards reflect what has become common practice; for example, that a rental or exchange of a list is for one-time use. But as technology has advanced, it has become increasingly important to develop guidelines for new list procedures, such as the creation of chronic non-responder files and modeling and enhancement processes for outside lists.
The new standards address all aspects of list usage, including clearances, data retention, pricing and list hygiene. And they leave open the possibility that exceptions can be made — as long as both parties are aware and have agreed in advance.
The new standards are a reminder that the better stewards of the donors’ trust we in the fundraising profession can be, the better it will be for all involved. So be sure to honor your donors’ preferences, and comply with the DMA and USPS standards regarding list hygiene.
We applaud the list community, and Pat Frame of List Services, who led the effort to put these standards in place. The document, which has been endorsed by all of the major fundraising list brokers and managers, and has been welcomed by the industry at large, can be found at www.npliststandards.com. We at Lautman Maska Neill & Company encourage you to visit and read for yourself.
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Tips for Cutting Production Costs
In today’s direct mail market, there are many ways that organizations can cut costs without sacrificing quality. Taking the time to explore various printing and mailing options can yield significant savings. Here are some helpful tips to save you money on your next campaign:
- Gang your printing: Take a look at the entire year’s marketing schedule. Are there any campaigns that have similar components? Can you print your letterhead in advance? Gang printing large quantities can equal big savings and many suppliers will give you a competitive price.
- Change the package size or content: Can you turn a 9x12 package into a 6x9? If there is an insert, can you put the insert’s content on the back of the reply form? If your current package is closed-face, can you use a window — at least for the low dollar segments? These small changes can make a big difference in your budget.
- Testing: Perform tests that only require lasering changes on a reply form. When the changes are only in the lasering, you can reduce the number of mail panels, which in turn reduces postage costs.
- Reduce the number of colors in the package: Take a look at the package and decide if four-color artwork is necessary. Any reduction of colors can save you money!
While it’s important to keep costs low, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. If any of the cost-saving measures could impact performance, it’s critical that you test them first to make sure you aren’t hurting revenue.
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