How I Beat the Control: A Good Deed for the Boy Scouts
My fundraising package for the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) doesn't have a lot of copy. There is no informative four-page letter, no glossy brochure, no carefully crafted lift note highlighting BSA's programs and good works.
Everyone knows the Boy Scouts. If you love them, you probably contribute. If not, this mailing reminds you about what Scouting is all about.
The old control connected with the core constituency. Copy said that BSA helps to:
... instill strong moral values and character in our youth ... and help them become responsible citizens.
A worthy and credible claim, yes. But it was too warm, fuzzy and general to get fence sitters to write checks. The package was holding its own. But I knew we could improve results by doing a better job defining the Scouts' wholesome image and increasing reader involvement.
A Back-to-basics Appeal
When assigned, I briefly considered mentioning BSA's legal troubles in recent years. I decided NOT to do this directly. It's best not to open a can of worms that dilutes this message: The Boy Scouts is all about helping boys. Period.
Its own materials say it best. The Scout law, oath, motto and slogan indicate exactly what BSA is all about. New Boy Scouts are required to memorize these sayings, so I figured that many ex-Scouts and Scout parents receiving this mailing would know them as well.
For this reason, I put at least one of these items on every component except the reply envelope. I took a one-two-punch approach with copy that promises BSA will "uphold traditional American values," and BSA materials that show how it accomplishes this goal. This strong, make-a-claim-and-prove-it copy proved effective.
Make Inexpensive Graphics Work
My assignment was to work with the control's existing modest format. Components included a closed-face 4-1/8" x 8-7/8" outer envelope produced in-line with a short computer letter and a chopped donation slip. The control also had a reply envelope.
Fundraising graphics must never look like contributions are being spent on expensive mailings. Instead, graphics should appear to be a cut below commercial mail. So when I decided to use a photo on the outer envelope, I opted for a less expensive-looking blue-and-white shot instead of standard black-and-white photography.
This gives the mailing the desired neat-but-needy look up front. Also, using red and blue inks on white paper establishes a patriotic red-white-and-blue color scheme for this "as American as mom's apple pie" client.
Use Quick Emotion
Next to the photo of two serious-looking Scouts, large personalized copy on the outer envelope reads:
We need your help, Mr. XXX.
It's a quick, heart-tugging, emotionally charged visual approach that's tough for any Scout supporter to toss.
The return address is the Boy Scouts of America Los Angeles' office, and three red BSA eagle emblems on the front and back make it very clear who this letter is from. There's also smaller red teaser copy that reads, "FREE GIFT INSIDE."
On the back, the flap of the envelope's "Save traditional American values" teaser has these BSA sayings under it:
A Scout is:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
THE SCOUT MOTTO
THE SCOUT SLOGAN
Do a good turn daily
Get Readers Physically Involved
Most good direct mail gets the reader physically involved by using action devices. The theory is that once you get the reader to do something (such as detaching a membership card or moving a token) there's a better chance he or she will buy something or donate.
We didn't have the budget for "bells and whistles" here, but that didn't mean we had to go without any involvement. The reader is asked to check off a box, sign and return the Scout oath as a way of showing support for the Scouts.
The letter/oath panel features a second reproduction of the Boy Scout oath against the eye-catching red-and-white, flag-style background. Under the oath is a signature line preceded by:
I endorse this Oath and want the Boy Scouts to continue to instill traditional American values in our nation's youth.
Response copy to the right of the Scout oath urges the reader to sign, detach and return the oath with a contribution.
In a short letter at the top of this panel, instead of discussing BSA's legal problems, I mentioned BSA's role in a society with conflicting values:
... the Boy Scouts of America have been striving to uphold
traditional American values. We are determined to stand strong against all pressures and any demands in the future that we become more politically correct.
Help us fight to preserve honesty, respect and personal integrity in our nation's youth. A whole generation of kidsand the very future of Americais at risk!
Informed readers could infer that this was about BSA's recent legal history, while others weren't distracted. So everyone understood the urgency of this "SPECIAL APPEAL." The back of this letter/oath panel also features the Scout law.
The in-line, chopped donor reply form continues the outer envelope's red-white-and-blue visual motif. The ask string is lasered in black, giving BSA the option to raise donation amounts in future mailings to established donors. On the back is the Scout oath again. The idea was to make it impossible to even glance at this piece without seeing at least one of the Scout sayings.
In this test package I added a pre-printed 2" x 7" red-white-and-blue Scout law bookmark on coated card stock. This is the "FREE GIFT" mentioned on the outer envelope. This bookmark freemium uses the tried-and-true fundraising technique of sending an unsolicited gift. It's a subtle way of making the prospect feel a little guilty about keeping something from a charity without contributing to it.
This package beat the control and produced an 8.48 percent response by involving prospects with the sign-and-return Scout oath; adding the Scout law bookmark freemium; reproducing BSA sayings eight separate times; and featuring copy that does not get in the way of BSA's widely respected materials.
To top it off, many prospects had some of this package already memorizeda copywriter's dream ... and a new control package for a worthy client!
Tom Meyer is a freelance copywriter who has written more than 100 direct mail control packages. He was former creative director of Polk Direct and senior copywriter at Reader's Digest. He can be reached at (612) 269-0761 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.