A Black Tie Mailing
Here's a scenario: It's January. The first month of a brand new year, ushered inyou hopeby donors and prospects with cheerful anticipation. So, what do you do if you're a nonprofit sending out the first renewal for this brave new year?
If you're The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative research and educational think tank, you go all out, as it has every January for more than 20 years with this business-style effort (Archive code #601-172705-0501).
The mailing is dressed in an ecru #9 envelope, with the Heritage Foundation logo boxed and embossed in gold on a blue background in the upper left of the outer's face. This color scheme is carried inside to a 6-1/2" x 10" reply device; 61/4" x 10-1/4" four-page letter; 8" x 10-1/4" membership certificate; and a 3-1/2" x 4-3/4" label sheet.
Sent to more than 200,000 active and recently lapsed members of the Foundation going back 36 months, the mailing is the first in a string of five renewal asks that, as Carsten Walter, director of membership programs for the Heritage Foundation, puts it, "progressively get less expensive and more urgent."
Walter notes that as the first out of the gate, the goal of this mailing is to come across as formal and institutional, much like a business mailing, with a soft ask that relies on donors' commitment to the organization in the hopes of netting high-dollar gifts.
The soft ask can be seen in the letter, which concludes with an ask that first urges the recipient to increase his previous gift of $50 to $100, then stresses that if that's too much, $75 dollars would be nice, and ends by saying that, at the very least, Heritage will be happy to receive a repeat gift of $50.
The formality of the mailing shines through in every piece, from the embossed outer to the "2005 Membership Memorandum" headline on the reply device to the personalized and ready-for-framing "Certificate of Membership," complete with seven donor-level labels for the $20 members to the $1,000 president's club members.
In addition to the "wow" factor and the higher perceived value of the certificate, Walter says it also serves as an
involvement deviceand one that works.
"We have regional managers on the road, and they'll walk into a donor's office and the certificate will be framed and on a wall," he says. "You can become cynical doing this ... but it matters, and the quality matters. And in this case, we spend extra money to ensure the quality, and it pays the dividend."
Another involvement device is the "comments" space provided on the back of the reply device. Heritage makes a point, says Walter, of responding to every remark it receives and, in a given year, responds to 30,000 comments in one form or another, all a part of a restructuring of its relationship-building efforts that has payed off in double-digit increases in support from members.
Though it's the most expensive renewal of the bunch, Walter says this effort is Heritage's best mailing of the year.
"We mail, in some form, every month to our housefile," says Walter, "but this mailing alone in January brings in 15 percent of our overall total net income for the year. So, it's a million dollar-plus mailing for us."
Clearly, it hasn't been their control for more than 20 years for nothing.