Just like retail stores, nonprofits get ready for the holiday season starting in October or even September. Most send out “annual appeals,” the standard direct mail packages that ask for contributions. Will you open them? And if you do, will you read everything in them?
Why or why not? The “whys” might be that you know and have supported the organization in the past, you already intended to give and were waiting for a solicitation, you’re attracted by the interesting look of the package, or some “teaser” line or photo on the outside envelope tugged at your heart-strings and/or made you feel guilty. The “why nots” are probably that you don’t have disposable income, don’t know the organization, already get too much direct mail, and…what else? Please add to this list in the comments below.
For those that you do open, do you just skim? Or do you read the whole letter/brochure and inserts?
Talk to any of the major fundraising consultants or organizations, and they say that direct mail is still “king.” While they advocate adding email, social media, and special landing pages or other features of the website to fundraising communications, that good old stamped envelope remains a mainstay.
Most of them, and the specialist copywriters hired to bring in the cash, also say that longer is still better when it comes to these packages—even letters up to four pages! Others, including one of my most experienced clients, say that nobody wants to read a letter that’s longer than a page. You can imagine how hard this makes my job: tell an inspiring story, mention some impressive outcomes (statistics) for accountability, ask for money (sometimes mentioning different levels), and highlight any special features of the campaign, such as a matching grant—all in about 250-300 words.
A new line of thought is emerging that this up-and-coming generation doesn’t respond to direct mail. In fact, they don’t get a lot of traditional fundraising. There was an interesting article about this on the Case Foundation website: Fundraising Appeals are not Natural for Millennials. Here’s a quote:
Organizations practice what is very natural to them – sending out fundraising appeals and waiting for response. But this practice of asking for support isn’t always natural to a Millennial.
The report goes on to say that organizations need to reach them through networks of friends and peers (social media plays a big role), initiate actual conversations, and keep messages short and simple. But do you think this applies only to Millennials? Aren’t we all overwhelmed with communication? Don’t we all rely on family and friends for recommendations in our lives?
There is some truth in everyone’s assertions. It probably comes down to segmenting your audiences with specialized communications—something that is very hard to do when fundraising budgets keep getting tightened.
This year, the appeal I’m working on has several brand new features. We’ll see how they work.
Image credit: by Victori∀ on flickr.