Anatomy of a Control: A Vision for Growth
When Lighthouse International abandoned its labels acquisitions control package in 2006 in an effort to bring in higher-dollar donors, it turned to a proven renewal package and adapted that to reach out to its acquisitions audience-a move that led to the founding of a new control that it has relied on since.
In 2008, the organization mailed to its acquisitions audience-comprised of other vision and health-related lists, primarily in the New York tristate area-in June, October and November, but when Theresa Rizzo joined Lighthouse International in mid-2008 as the organization's new director of direct marketing and operations, she began the process of actively reviewing the direct mail program and identifying ways to expand and improve the program in the year to come. "We've been using that package as our control package in acquisitions for two years now, and we want to be able to expand our acquisition program and go to more lists to try to see if another package will work better," explains Rizzo.
Lighthouse International's current control-a #10 testimonial package featuring a two-page letter about Brianna, a young girl aided by the organization's Early Intervention Program-highlights several programs the organization offers for visually impaired children, teens and adults. That letter, as is the case with most nonprofits, is the heart of the package and contains a lede that few prospects will stop reading:
At age three, little Brianna had lost the vision in her right eye.
"I remember the day she was diagnosed. It was like the world is crashing down on you," says Brianna's mother. "You are worried your child is going to suffer."
But rather than delve into deeper sorrow and misery, the letter shifts gears in the next paragraph and describes the now 4-year-old Brianna as "happy, well-adjusted" and just like other healthy, cared-for kids. Apparently, she even went skiing recently. The letter then, in an underlined passage, describes how this happened: "Brianna's parents don't hesitate to say what made the difference-almost in unison they declare emphatically-"It was the Lighthouse." It is then, in a bold section, that prospects learn that Lighthouse International has been around for more than 100 years and helps people of all ages who suffer from vision loss.
Toward the end, the letter invites the prospective donor to be part of the Lighthouse family and asks the supporter to consider a donation in the amount of $15, $25, $50 or $100-an ask that is repeated on the standard reply form. On the reverse side of the reply form, the prospective donor is asked to consider two programs-the employer matching gift program, and the President's Circle for donors who annually give $1,000 or more-to help further the impact her gifts have on the organization.
Lighthouse International created a more exclusive donor or membership level for its prospects by clearly enumerating the benefits associated with each level. It invites prospective donors to consider joining the President's Circle by annually contributing $1,000 or more, and according to Rizzo, there are many perks associated with this exclusive level. "They get invited to screenings here-we screen some movies before they're officially released-and they get more high-end solicitations from our major gifts department," she reveals.
Indeed, by offering a variety of incentives to the highest-dollar donors-be it advance entry to exhibits, invitations to exclusive events, newsletter subscriptions or other valuable premiums-there may be a significant number of prospects who decide to contribute at higher levels.
Finally, the control package's two-sided, three-color insert offers more detailed information about vision loss and Lighthouse International's services and initiatives for the visually impaired.
And furthering the effort to expand Lighthouse's acquisitions program, Rizzo explains that the organization is testing new lists, particularly reaching out to prospects outside of the New York tristate area. "We're testing outside into other states, and we're finding that some of those other states are doing just as well as the names in the tristate area," notes Rizzo. "So we have a lot of testing going on with packages as well as lists and segmentation."