Brand-Forward ≠ Fundraising Writing

Who’s doing the writing, a person or an organization?

In my career, I have seen and personally experienced a tug-of-war happening between marketing and development departments. It’s not because marketing people are mean or bad at their jobs, they are some of the smartest people I know. It may be familiar to you, here’s how it goes:

The development team asks the marketing team to write a fundraising letter for them. The marketing team produces a great piece that hits on all the high points they’ve been trained to write about: how many lives they’ve impacted, how what the organization does is better/faster/more efficient (pick your unique selling proposition) than other organizations, how much money people give to them, and appropriately use of their name in at least four mentions. Yeay us!

The piece is mailed and surprisingly, does not raise as much money as was hoped. Everyone scratches their heads and commits to doing better next time.

What happened?

Here’s the truth about brand-forward communication: Donors. Don’t. Care.

What do donors care about?

What organizations have done with the money they’ve already given. Why the nonprofits still need donors’ support. How donating to the organization is changing the world.

Here’s the difference, in a real-world example.

I was asked to help a client write a fundraising piece that would be mailed to current donors. As a starting point, I was given the piece that was mailed the previous year, mostly for the facts and figures. This is a human services organization that employs people with disabilities.

This was the original opening sentence: “Our mission has never been as important as it is now. Nationwide, only one-third of working-age people with disabilities are employed.”

Who have we talked about so far? The organization first and the people we want to help, in general.

The letter went on to quote many facts and figures, backed up by the Department of Labor, on the number of people with disabilities who are unemployed, and asks for a donation because this organization employees people with disabilities. Reading this, I’m still not sure why this organization needs my donation to hire employees.

Instead, let’s try this:

“I am writing to you because there are people right here in our community who cannot  find meaningful work, and you have the power to help them.”

Wait, me? People who live by me need my help?

The letter goes on to tell the story of one particular person who found himself out-of-work after a health crisis, and how the organization helped him find meaningful work again after two years of being unemployed. It talks about how the company provides special accommodations and training to people with disabilities so they can be successful not only at work, but also in life. The employee gushes about how grateful he is to be able to work again and provide for himself.

Now which letter would convince you to make a donation, the one filled with facts and figures, or the one about an individual whose life was changed due to this organization’s work?

The result?

More money raised, but, more importantly, more donors chose to give again to support the mission. Unless nonprofits can retain the donors they already have, they will find themselves on a sinking ship of ever shrinking donors and revenues. But that’s a post for another day.

Point is, there is a crossroads between brand-forward and fundraising communications and many nonprofits have a hard time finding that intersection. Keep at it, keep searching for that crossroad. If you need help, call me. 🙂

Direct Mail vs Junk Mail, Part II

Earlier I wrote about a piece of unsolicited advertising I had received in my mailbox (the technical definition of “direct mail”). I considered that piece to be “junk mail” — poorly targeted to people who have no use for the product.

The next day, I received a piece of direct mail.

This piece was significantly smaller, a 3.5″ x 5″ folded 4-color postcard, to be exact. Part of the outside messaging had been ink-jetted and smeared in the mailing process, not as pristine as the piece I had received the day before.

Even though it didn’t originally catch my eye in the mailbox, this is definitely an offer I will be acting on.Vista Print postcard.jpgIMG_9346.JPG

I recently opened my own business, which means I filed my business with the State of Minnesota. This company selected the names of new business owners and offers them a deal to get business cards printed. They bulk-printed the creative to get a volume discount and then ink-jetted on the offer deadline, promo code and address before mailing.

I have to believe they’ve got a warehouse of thousands of these cards waiting to get mailed. If they were even smarter (which is absolutely possible), they performed a gender identification on the list of business owners and for the men inserted a sample business card featuring a man’s name and masculine colors.

They wisely chose their audience — new business owners — and offered them a service they believe they could use, business cards.

Brilliant.

The creative may not be a glossy, over-sized “hey look at me” piece, but they will be getting my order because they got two critical pieces right: audience selection and timing.

Imagine how these pieces would have been received if they had been delivered at different times: the offer for window replacements when we filed a permit for a remodel would have been direct mail, and the offer for business cards to a non-business owner would have been junk mail.

Nonprofits should be asking themselves if they asking donors to give when donors  are looking to contribute, or when nonprofits need to raise money? Are you sending direct mail or junk mail? The answer is not in a new snazzy envelope, great graphics or a well-written letter, it’s in the audience selection and timing.

Direct Mail versus Junk Mail

For years I’ve had to explain to my family what I do for a living. The minute I say that I partner with nonprofits and mail to their donors or prospective donors my relatives say something along the lines of, “oh it’s YOU who sends me that junk mail!”

Excuse me, I do not send JUNK mail, I send direct mail.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Direct mail is targeted to people who may find the information in the mailing of interest. Junk mail is not targeted to its audience, and often falls on deaf ears because people have no interest in the product or service.

Take this, for example. (I intentionally cropped the top so you can’t see the logo of the company.)IMG_9340.JPG

This most definitely got my attention. Let me give you an idea of proportion:

IMG_9341.JPG

This thing is huge. It was folded in half to fit into my mailbox, and even then the box couldn’t entirely shut. (The dimensions are 9.5×13 inches. I know, fellow geeks, because I measured it.)

The mailer had to pay the flat postage rate (which is more expensive than letter rate), put it on heavy card stock to make it through USPS machines and made sure the four-color glossy print did not rub off on pieces around it. In other words, this was not cheaply produced or mailed.

Only problem? We replaced every window in our house last year as a part of a major remodel. So…thank you for the information on how much I could save by replacing my windows with your product, but I don’t need your product.

Junk mail.

They could have possibly avoided this by pulling permit information and suppressing everyone on their file who had a permit pulled within the last 24 months. Better yet, they could try to target those who had a remodel but did not have windows replaced, though I’m not sure if that level of data is available on publicly filed permits.

How about select people whose houses were built or remodeled 20 years ago, and then mail to them to consider window replacements? They would end up mailing fewer people, sure, but the people they mail would more than likely actually be interested in their product. Costs would decrease, response rate would increase, and all would be right with the world.

Unfortunately many of us are very familiar with junk mail. When’s the last time you got a piece of direct mail? I got one recently, and I’ll tell you about it soon.