Searching for a Cure
About a year and a half ago, CureSearch, a Bethesda, Md.-based childhood cancer research organization, realized it lacked the top-notch direct marketing program it needed to best serve its mission. Aside from seeking to build a well-planned program with a strategic mail schedule, the organization recognized the need for a well-defined, tried-and-tested list of direct mail supporters.
Recognizing it should do some housekeeping, the organization stopped its direct marketing program and took the better part of last year to research its donors. It came out of the process with two knowns: 1. Its best donors are mission-driven, inspired to give by personal stories that tug at the heartstrings; and 2. The majority of the donors on its mailing list had given through an event, i.e., were not high-probability direct mail responders.
"We found that nearly 70 percent of the past donors had given through an event," Karen Pierce, director of donor development for the organization, says. "Event gifts are typically very transactional-limited affinity and commitment to the organization."
After a few months of work with its database, the organization was able to identify approximately 30 percent of its database as dedicated direct mail donors. Pierce rebuilt the organization's direct marketing program, focusing its direct mail messaging on personal interest stories that its donors could relate to and show the different ways people can get involved with CureSearch. Its end-of-the-year mailing, sent in a #10 envelope in December 2008 to about 20,000 CureSearch current and lapsed donors, epitomizes the organization's new messaging (Archive code #613-717493-0901).
The outer envelope teases and the reply slip reinforces the story so poignantly told in the letter: that of Kendra Cook, a 10th-grader who, in honor of her younger brother Caleb and other children with cancer, had her head shaved to raise money for CureSearch. The story of Kendra is especially effective for the organization because it weaves three themes: sacrifice, hope and urgency. While Kendra's younger brother Caleb has "triumphed over cancer," a 4-year-old boy who Kendra met through her involvement with CureSearch did not. Combining these elements, the letter challenges recipients to sacrifice something as well so hope might grow-and makes donations seem like the least they can do. The reply reminds prospects of Kendra's sacrifice by featuring a photo of her and her quoted plea for support next to the ask string.