Cash It or Leave It
Mention anything related to money on your carrier envelope and you're sure to capture the attention of more than a few prospects. No doubt, "free" money is invaluable both in your bank account and as a way of generating attention and response from prospects.
For the past four years, the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) has relied on the impact of a live check in its acquisitions control package to lead prospective donors to respond to its call for support. Each year, 1.75 million pieces whose carrier envelopes read "Check Enclosed" arrive in the mailboxes of prospects who have contributed to other health-related charities. "The check is there to get them to open the envelope, then consider the appeal that's in there and then consider their contribution," says Joel Gerstel, executive director at the Staten Island-based organization (Archive code #604-171861-0810).
Inside the #10 carrier envelope is a $2 check attached to the reply device; on the reverse, "Tips for Independence" give prospective donors more information about the disease. A personalized, two-page letter explains Parkinson's disease and the organization's mission, and asks the prospect to consider returning the check to the organization along with a donation rather than cashing it. "What [many] people do is return the check back to us, even though we have put a couple of sentences in the letter [explaining] that you don't have to return the check," explains Gerstel. "If you want to donate, return the buckslip and you can cash the $2 check. Whether you donate or you don't, you can cash it."
Surely, a check sounds like a great way to capture anyone's attention, but what prevents most people from cashing the check without supporting the organization? "It's creative, and I think people respond to opening the envelope," says Gerstel. "What they do with the check is between them and their conscience."
Some might wonder how profitable this approach could be if prospects are able to cash checks without donating to the APDA, but according to Gerstel, only a small percentage of checks are cashed by prospects who don't contribute to the organization. "Roughly between 500 and 1,000 are cashed [without accompanying donations]," notes Gerstel. "We mail between 200,000 and 300,000 each time, and I think more are returned to us than are cashed."
Last year's campaign yielded approximately 31,000 new donors-a number Gerstel says the APDA was pleased with. "The results have been good. Last year we ran ahead of cost," explains Gerstel. "The year before we didn't, but last year we did, which is always encouraging-profit against loss, revenue against cost of production. So we couldn't argue with that."
While overall response to the campaign has been very positive, Gerstel says some prospects don't understand the concept of a charity mailing a check. "I think it's a unique approach," says Gerstel. "We do get negative phone calls because some people do not understand why a charity is sending out money to get money. But on an average mailing of 250,000 pieces, if you get 25 phone calls, you get a lot."
Gerstel points out that although the APDA isn't currently testing other packages against this control, it may soon begin looking for a replacement package and would consider using the check again if it continues to show strength. "I think eventually this is going to run its course, but so far it hasn't slowed up even though we're expecting it to," concludes Gerstel. "It's still a reliable package."
IDEA IN ACTION: Tracking With Codes
Consider including codes on reply devices to indicate the list from which each prospect's name was generated as a way of tracking results on the back end. By paying close attention to which lists result in the most favorable response, you may be able to refocus your campaign and better target those lists that prove most profitable for you. "There is a code on the reply, and we get reports on how many come out of which charity," explains Joel Gerstel, executive director for the American Parkinson Disease Association.