A Tale of 4 Acquisition Efforts

In the past week, I have received four acquisition mailings (see the above slides). Two are from animal-rescue organizations that mail nationwide (Best Friends Animal Society and North Shore Animal League), and two are for local humanitarian groups (Union Rescue Mission and Los Angeles Mission).

There are definite similarities with some of the mailings — three of the four have four-color outer envelopes, two use No. 10 non-standard window envelopes and both local agencies have a price point on the envelope.

But there are definite differences, again evident from the outer envelopes. The Los Angeles Mission uses the small format, and North Shore Animal League encloses premiums (although I don’t see them through the oversized window). Best Friends affixes “live” stickers to the oversized outer envelope, and Union Rescue Mission is the only one not using an indicia.

But get past the envelope (which only a small percentage of recipients of acquisition seem to do, judging by response rates), and the differences really show up. I like a lot about all four of these mailings. But, there are some things that stood out to me when I opened the envelopes to see the “heart” of the appeal that could hurt response (in my opinion) or at least not help it.

I admit I am taking a risk here — all of these appear to be some level of a control mailing since I have gotten them (or very similar ones) before, so they clearly “work” (however that is defined at the respective organizations). But “control” does not equal “perfect,” as even the best copywriters will tell you. The unsuspecting nonprofit that picks up an idea from another agency without asking if it really seems like the best option risks a colossal fundraising flop.

So here’s where I’d want to make some changes or at least test an option or two before I adopted these practices at another nonprofit.

The ask isn’t consistent
Best Friends tells me that “$25 spays or neuters a dog” and suggests I join “at the $25 level.” Yet, the reply form starts at $12. I feel like I am being let off the hook! I have no idea what $12 does, but it sure is a bargain. North Shore Animal League asks for a gift of $20 or more but starts at $15 on the reply form. The bottom line (to me) is to look at donors acquired at a lower level and determine if (when) they become profitable for your organization. If the answer is “never” or too far into the future to be sustainable, don’t ask on the reply form for a lower gift than you need to make an acquisition effort pay off over time.

The text isn’t as easy to read as it could be
North Shore Animal League uses an easy-to-read serif font, but it doesn’t indent paragraphs. As a result, the front page of the letter looks like a pretty heavy block of type that may imply “tough read” to some. Yet, there is plenty of room left on the back page. Adding indentation and breaking the longer paragraphs (especially the first one) into two would make the letter easier to read, and using bolding or other type elements would make the letter more appealing to a scanner (human, not electronic).

The Los Angeles Mission uses a sans-serif font that is lightweight and gets a bit lost in the striped background. Again, this is probably a control package and has been tested into. But for this old dog, it’s hard to read — not impossible, but I’m not sure I really want to bother. With the small format, space it very limited. But I wonder if we could do a better job of making the copy in that limited space more readable.

Inserts have an important role to play
All four of these acquisition packages included inserts. And all of them were positive additions (in my opinion). As stated earlier, North Shore Animal League includes a sheet of address labels and stickers. Best Friends had a fold-out brochure about a “day in the life” of one of its rescued dogs. The photos really were worth a thousand words (at least to this dog lover).

The mailings from Union Rescue Mission and the Los Angeles Mission both included “bouncebacks” — small cards I could sign that would be placed on the trays of people who receive meals at Thanksgiving. These involvement devices are a great way to engage the reader.

I’ve definitely gone out on a limb here, criticizing things that may have been proved to be the very best tactic ever. But if you take nothing else away, remember this: When it comes to our own mailings, we can be blind. We assume everyone “gets it.” We are sure they read the letter word for word, interact with the inserts, and immediately go to the reply form and make their gifts.

But in those dark hours when sleep eludes us, we realize the truth: Many recipients don’t even open the envelope. So if we can only work on making one thing better, that’s where we have to start.

TAKEAWAY: Look at the slides of the four mailings I’ve talked about here. Which one shouts out to you, “Open me!”? What can you take away from that realization that can impact your organization’s own mailing envelope?

This old dog looks at a lot of envelopes that come in my mail; most leave little impression on me. (If you’re not getting any mail, you’re missing out on great fodder for learning! You may want to take a look at Who’s Mailing What!, or start donating — give to get [mail, that is])! When I do open an envelope, I want to quickly grasp what it is I am being “offered” — what problem can I solve if I send a gift? Are you answering that question for your reader?

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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