Saving Bees With the Ultimate Direct Mail Freemium

Direct mail freemiums can seem pretty dull after a while when you’ve seen as many as I have over the years at Who’s Mailing What! But sometimes a tactic — a simple packet of seeds — makes me sit up and take notice … and it all started with dying bees.

Direct mail freemiums  can seem pretty dull after a while when you’ve seen as many as I have over the years at Who’s Mailing What! Address labels, notepads, calendars, stickers … you can argue about how much real value they provide to donors these days. And, even knowing that they still lift response for many nonprofits, I might agree with you.

But sometimes a tactic — a simple packet of seeds — makes me sit up and take notice … and it all started with dying bees.

The collapse in honeybee populations in recent years is a big story because it has implications beyond the intrinsic worth of an animal species. Besides providing honey, bees pollinate the crops that provide a third of American food. Yes, a third. That’s a lot of nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

Bees_01Originally I wanted to write about how environmental groups are fundraising around this crisis. I had gathered mail from Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Earthjustice, and intended to compare outers, letters, incentives, etc.

Then, a #10 envelope from the Sierra Club was dropped on my desk.

SierraC_01There’s nothing like a short teaser in a distressed typeface (“BUZZ KILL”) and a large image of a dead bee to immediately grab your attention.

This member acquisition effort centers on how the usage of certain pesticides is threatening farms and businesses because it is also killing bees. The letter and inserts name the culprits, and there’s a brief petition to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the reply form to push for a legislative remedy.

So in most respects, Sierra Club isn’t doing anything different from its colleagues named earlier, with one exception: this envelope includes a “BEE FEED Flower Mix.”

SCSeeds_01As the packet says, these seeds are for flowers that “provide nectar and pollen to wild bees, honey bees, and other pollinators.” Besides growing instructions, the back of the pack lists the ingredients: seeds for California Poppy, Blue Flax, New England Aster, etc.

Seeds have long been included in direct mail packages, but purely as an incentive to donate. Any connection to a group’s specific message or appeal has been tangential at best.

Here, the seed packet is a powerful involvement device, not a reward. It gives the recipient something literally hands-on to do: plant seeds for flowers that will save bees. It doesn’t get any more practical or relevant to the mission than that.

Also, like other elements mailed by advocacy groups, it makes the contributor a partner in the mission. Instead of a “street team,” you’re part of the garden team.

As the letter puts it: “Before long, we’ll provide plenty of clean, healthy, unpoisoned food for bees. We’ll regenerate the bees and the planet.”

The front and back of the packet also contain reassurances that the seeds are untreated and non-GMO, important considerations for much of the target audience for this mailer.

One slight criticism: the call to action (to use the seeds) appears three times in the letter, but nowhere on the reply form. Even with a lot going on there, it’s another opportunity to connect the dots for the donor.

You know that old parable about the kid throwing beached starfish back into the water?

A packet of seeds may not seem like that much either, but it will still make a difference.

Don’t Be Like Ted: 3 Smarter Ways to Get Political Direct Mail Noticed

It happens every election cycle. A candidate running for political office sends out a direct mail effort that gets attention, but for the wrong reason. A single miscue can result in a lost opportunity to garner support, as well as provide ammunition for the opposition.

It happens every election cycle. A candidate running for political office sends out a direct mail effort that gets attention, but for the wrong reason. A single miscue can result in a lost opportunity to garner support, as well as provide ammunition for the opposition.

What sparked this post was a news story about presidential candidate Ted Cruz that was forwarded to me by Denny Hatch, former editor of Target Marketing and founder of Who’s Mailing What!

TedC_01The Cruz for President campaign recently mailed this matching gift appeal that carefully skirts the legal, if not ethical line. The #10 outer envelope bears Cruz’s signature and name in a script similar to that on official mail sent to constituents.

The recipient’s name appears on a blue-and-white lined high security-like “check” that shows through the address window. To the window’s right, there’s a promise that raised red flags for some people: “CHECK ENCLOSED.”

Now maybe people should have asked themselves why someone from the government — a U.S. Senator — would be sending them a check in the mail. Or noticed the “PERSONAL BUSINESS” disclaimer in the corner card, or the “NO CASH VALUE” note on the faux check inside.

Yes, it’s a tactic that’s been around a long time in direct mail. But why court controversy, when there are so many effective approaches to deploy?

Based on my review of direct mail I analyze for Who’s Mailing What!, here are three techniques that political campaigns can use to stand out in the mailbox and raise money.

1. Use a Teaser in the Candidate’s Voice
When you need all good people to come to the aid of your party or candidate, a tagline on the outer envelope can speak to them in a way that sounds authentic.

Here’s a good one mailed by the Rand Paul for Senate 2016 campaign.

Rand_01“The NSA Hasn’t Read This …” appears on a 9”x12” manila outer and suggests that some secret information might be inside. To an audience that cuts across the usual ideological lines, concern over snooping gets them inside to see what the chief critic of government surveillance has to say.

Some others:

“Please help me respond to the biggest threat Wall Street banks have ever made against us.” —Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts

“President Obama doesn’t want you to open this letter. But I do!” —Rubio Victory Committee

 “[FNAME], this is our moment … are you with me?” —Hillary for America

Each of these examples, when mailed to the right target, sets up the candidate’s identity and the narrative of their campaigns, or at least the letter inside. For Elizabeth Warren, it’s opposing Wall Street. For Marco Rubio, it’s fighting “liberal elites.” For Hillary Clinton, it’s siding with “everyday Americans.”

AAUW Supports STEM With Integrated Campaign

Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey (CCAH) recently carried out an successful integrated campaign for the American Association of University Women (AAUW). There are always lessons that can be useful to other marketers.

Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey (CCAH), a direct marketing agency, recently carried out an integrated appeal campaign for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that was a huge win in meeting its objectives. I love hearing success stories because there are always lessons that can be useful for other marketers.

I chatted with CCAH’s Pete Carter, Principal and Senior VP, and Colleen Hutchings, Senior Account Executive, to get their perspectives on this integrated online/offline campaign.

The Goals
According to Carter, there were two main goals for the campaign.

The first was practical: Money had to be raised to fund AAUW’s programs that increase awareness and participation of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The second objective was conversion. About half of its members are dues-only contributors. This appeal was intended to educate these members about STEM, raise money, and set the stage for other mission-oriented appeals in the future.

The Direct Mail Package
Dropped to nearly 90,000 recipients on Nov. 5, 2015, this “go-to-format” consisted of an outer envelope, letter, reply form, insert, and courtesy reply envelope. The front of the outer was spare, only the logo and a teaser above the address: “Personal. Prepared for.”  Because “STEM can be cerebral,” Carter said, the intent was simple: don’t give away too much, just get the recipient inside.

CCAHLetter1Across its four pages, the letter makes the case for STEM by reciting statistics and detailing how the AAUW’s programs – Tech Savvy and Tech Trek – are working. But the heart of the effort is a 2-page sheet of testimonials from girls who have participated in STEM programs. Sharing these, Carter says, provides “emotional content.” Members love photos and personal messages from beneficiaries of these programs; much of this content also appears in the emails.

The First Email: Do You Agree?
The first email was sent on Nov. 5 and relied on two subject line tactics to get opened, and then acted on.

First, it was personalized with the addressee’s name at the front. “Personalization can provide a big lift,” Hutchings noted.

Second, it sparked curiosity in the recipient: “[FNAME], take 20 seconds to answer one question.”

The question: “Do you agree that women and girls should be better represented in STEM?”

CCAH1Using it three times over seven paragraphs is “kind of gimmicky” Hutchings admitted. “We can’t do it all the time.” “The audience will answer ‘yes’,” she continued. She pointed out that the “intention was to get more people to the donation form,” and to make it easy.

The clickthrough rate on this one was about 2,000 percent higher than the subsequent efforts, and it was the biggest revenue drive of the three emails.

One additional factor cited was using a deadline, “5 p.m. ET tomorrow, Friday, November 6” in the postscript of the letter. This touch was added at the last minute by the CCAH team, which, Hutchings said, “liked the idea of creating a sense of urgency … without going overboard.”

The Second Email: Stories
This effort, sent out on Nov. 12, has only four paragraphs, making it the shortest letter of the three emails in the campaign. As the focus is more personal and less abstract, it sets up the ask quickly.

CCAH2The “DONATE NOW” button is followed by a stream of pictures from participants in the STEM programs, like those in direct mail testimonial. Scrolling or swiping down through them was designed to “make it more tangible”, according to Hutchings, by showing the reader cause and effect.

The Third Email: Steer a Young Woman
The final message dropped on Nov. 19, and is “much more representative of what [AAUW] emails sound like,” Hutchings said. In its nine paragraphs, the pitch to the member is very similar to what appears in the direct mail letter, emphasizing statistics on education, as well as on the success of AAUW’s programs in educating girls.

CCAH3Despite the more academic tone, the copy also works on inducing some guilt in the member: “We must give every girl who has ever dreamed … the chance to fulfill her goals.” A related touchpoint is a call to duty: “Please do your part.”

Takeaways
This coordinated campaign resulted in raising a net of $23,899 for AAUW, with an average gift of $53.25.

For Carter, this success shows that the two channels can work hand-in-hand, and that “you can’t take either one away.” He makes the analogy of a customer who buys a sweater based on a saved J. Crew catalog to underline the importance of direct mail in a buying decision that otherwise may not have happened. “It primes the pump,” he said.

Marketers should “just try new tactics to engage people,” he advised, even if they’re different from what you’ve done in the past. There’s “lots of room to try different tactics and techniques,” Hutchings said. There are “innovative ways of getting to the ask … and the audience is receptive to that,” she added.

Seasonal Giving: More Reality Show Than Reality

I don’t know about you, but this past Tuesday — dubbed “Giving Tuesday” in the holiday spending cycle — my email inbox was overflowing with charitable solicitations, from companies I regularly interact with as well as ones I’ve never had any contact.

Christmas in September may be looked at as a jump start to the retail holiday selling season by some, but others think it’s simply too much, too soon.I don’t know about you, but this past Tuesday — dubbed “Giving Tuesday” in the holiday spending cycle — my email inbox was overflowing with charitable solicitations, from companies I regularly interact with as well as ones I’ve never had any contact.

A 2012 GuideStar Survey reported that half of the organizations surveyed said they receive the majority of their contributions between October and December. It’s a well-known fact that individuals feel encouraged to give more generously during the holidays.

However for most Americans, this time of year is financially burdensome. Lavish holiday meals, gift shopping, and added travel put a strain on the monthly household budget. So as a marketer in a world with ever-increasing expenses, how do you help targets take the sting out of charitable giving?

A few months back, I received an email from FitBit (a company I do interact with daily via the bangle on my wrist). They were promoting a holiday challenge to their users, which would culminate in one charity receiving a $500,000 donation from FitBit. Users who register for the challenge make a walking commitment to support one of three charities, and the charity with the most steps at the end will receive the donation. Being the competitive person that I am, I immediately clicked on the link, selected the charity of choice, and upped my fitness participation, further engaging me with FitBit.

More recently, I learned of a challenge put forth by “healthy” Northern California burrito chain called High Tech Burrito. Their seasonal giving pitch involved offering their Burrito Club members a chance to donate their “earned” free menu item to a local food bank as an account credit. In return, HTB would donate a matching $7.25 in account credit. Voila! No expense to the member, and a benevolent (and tax-deductible) gesture by the company.

But in the spirit of social philanthropy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “selfless selfie.” Yes, those self-absorbed vanity pics can also help those in need this holiday season, thanks to the Pay Your Selfie app. The business model involves paying it’s members a small commission for sharing task-related selfies. And yes, those newsworthy gems could each pay out $0.25 or more. But this season, that quarter could become a dollar donation (or more). Between now and the end of the year, for every selfie a user takes in front of his or her open fridge, Pay our Selfie will donate $1 to Midwest-based anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance. While this particular challenge is trying to shed light on America’s poverty problem, I doubt users are making the connection between their well-stocked Frigidaire and the long lines at holiday soup kitchens. But maybe that’s just me.

My bigger question is: Have we now migrated to outsourcing our generosity?

Remember the highly successful ALS Ice Bucket challenge last year, with endless videos and photos of people hoisting buckets of icy cold water over the heads of the future financial gifters? Despite raising a staggering $115 million (and an additional $13 million to the organization’s regional branches), concern was raised whether ALS actually achieved their primary goal of increased awareness of the disease (although $128 million is nothing to sniff at).

Clearly the ALS Ice Bucket challenge has led the way to push marketers to innovate on ways to make their fundraising efforts more successful. But I’m not 100 percent convinced that merely “gifting” my earned “freebie” in a loyalty program, or stepping up my fitness for a month, or taking and posting a selfie, is truly a gift from my heart.

So take a minute after reading this blog post to take that $10 bucks you’d put aside for lunch, and drop it in the Salvation Army red bucket … or buy a bag of groceries and walk it into your local food bank. Those are people who could clearly use your help this time of year – and that is an authentic act of kindness.

Let’s not keep the holiday gift giving between the “haves” – let’s reach out and share our bounty with the “have nots.” And keep your selfie to yourself.

Direct Mail for Nonprofit Fundraising

One of the most common industries to use direct mail is the nonprofit sector. With the economic hard times many nonprofits have more people to serve and are getting less in donated funds. This creates a drastic gap between needs and financial ability to provide them. In many cases, this gap is driving nonprofits to create more fundraising campaigns as well as finding more potential donors to send to.

One of the most common industries to use direct mail is the nonprofit sector. With the economic hard times, many nonprofits have more people to serve and are getting less in donated funds. This creates a drastic gap between needs and financial ability to provide them. In many cases, this gap is driving nonprofits to create more fundraising campaigns as well as finding more potential donors to send to. So let’s see how direct mail can drive your response to increase your donations. Direct mail is more costly than sending out an email due to printing, mailing and postage costs, but when you can increase your ROI to more than cover that cost, it can be well worth it.

In direct mail your list is one of the most important parts. Obviously, the best list is your list of current donors. The USPS requires you to comply with their Move Update regulations by updating your lists every 95 days. There are several important list hygiene tools available to help keep your data clean and accurate.

  • Don’t forget to occasionally solicit lapsed donors. Consider telemarketing to those audiences in addition to mail.
  • Keep your donor mailing lists up to date. Obsolete data not only costs you money spent on undeliverable or misdirected mail, but can cause lost donations and can impact donor goodwill.
  • Studies have found that on average, up to 20 percent of records within a typical house file are undeliverable. By keeping your data current, you will save on printing, mailing and postage costs.
  • National Change of Address (NCOA) for new addresses of people who have moved.
  • Dedupe, so that you are not sending multiple pieces to the same address.
  • Deceased recipient purging, removing anyone who has been reported as recently deceased, can be a great asset as your list of donors are aging.

Finding good lists of prospective donors can be hard. Here are a few ideas you can try.

  1. Trade lists other nonprofits in your area. Make sure to code the lists when you send them out so that you know who responded from what list.
  2. You can find targeted prospect lists by looking for individuals who are sympathetic to your mission and have the capacity to give. By utilizing available list targeting tools it is possible to find prospects that most closely resemble your best donors.
  3. You can customize a list to your specific cause and overlay demographic and psychographic intelligence onto your donor data.
  4. Another option is to profile you donor list. Sophisticated list profiling is now a reality. Through a powerful array of new market segmentation tools you can profile the unique characteristics of your best donors and identify and target new prospects most like them. The results can boost your direct response rate, increase your market penetration, and dramatically improve your fundraising ROI.

Something else that Nonprofits should take note of, if you are mailing raffle tickets: The United States Postal Service (USPS) is strictly enforcing regulations on mailing raffle tickets. If you plan to mail raffle tickets for a fundraiser, you must meet requirements or the USPS could legally refuse to accept your mail. While it is legal to include advertising for a raffle, including a raffle or lottery ticket in a mailing is strictly prohibited unless you follow USPS guidelines. To avoid potential problems, the USPS requires the ticket makes clear that no payment is required to enter a raffle. The following elements should appear on each ticket in a mailing:

  1. Use the wording “suggested donation” before the price of the ticket.
  2. Use the wording “no donation required to enter” or add a check box “Please enter my name in the drawing. I do not wish to make a donation at this time.”

An alternative is to not include a ticket in the mailing. It is legal to advertise a raffle by mail, but you should still use the phrase “suggested donation” if you list the price of a ticket on the advertisement.

Using direct mail for nonprofit fundraising is a great way to help increase your donations. If you are in need of other tips or tricks feel free to reach out and ask providers. They have a wealth of knowledge to help you.

Timing Really Is Everything

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.” In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer.

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.”

In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer. Apparently, there had been some concern that people would mistake these efforts for the big Census Bureau mailing that was due to drop. Then, someone who actually had that complaint called the number on the RNC’s donation form, only to discover that it was for a phone sex line. Coming on the heels of news about lavish RNC spending, it’s been a tough few weeks for the party.

It’s easy to dismiss the second problem as merely a vendor mistake, one that appeared on only some of the mailings. It’s also easy to brush aside criticism of using “Census” on the outer. After all, it’s legal — it had passed muster with the USPS. And, it doesn’t really look like the Census mailer. It’s pretty obvious when opened that it’s just another issues poll, with leading questions, and a request for money. There’s nothing wrong with that, both parties have been mailing surveys for many years.

But it illustrates a bigger problem. A great national political party shouldn’t rely on a gimmick, like putting “Census”, or the IRS form — like “(2009) Return Enclosed” on the outer envelope to get someone to open it. Seriously, no one at the RNC thought this through, and saw this bad publicity coming? And, given how some of the Republican base feels about the Census, and especially, the IRS, it’s an especially puzzling choice of a teaser.

Twenty-five years ago, in the newsletter Who’s Mailing What!, Roger Craver wrote that to have a successful direct mail appeal, the “donors of principle,” the heart of any political organization, must be motivated by writing that conveys mission, selectivity, urgent need and effectiveness. The GOP was way ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard for decades, but as shown in the 2008 presidential race, not anymore. It’s going to be very interesting to see how both parties will energize the faithful in this election year.