In the current climate of shrunken personal savings and swelling unemployment percentages, many folks are feeling less fortunate, literally. Of course, many of these direct mail prospects know that others out there, at home and certainly in Third World countries, have it worse, but the self-preservation instinct is kicking in more than usual, with 2008 ranking as one of the worst years the fundraising sector has seen. At its 46th International Conference on Fundraising in New Orleans, La., held earlier this week, the Association of Fundraising Professionals reported that less than half of charities raised more money in 2008 than in 2007 and, more importantly (or frighteningly), fundraising gains dropped significantly across the board.
So what is a nonprofit to do? A careful examination of the sector in our Who's Mailing What! Archive-the world's most comprehensive library of direct mail-reveals several outstanding efforts that put more creative effort into their outer envelopes than usual. It almost appears that these select nonprofits understand that even fewer envelopes are being opened today, so the outer has more work to do than usual to get prospects' attention and compel them to get inside. And once inside, the case of the far less fortunate must be made better than ever.
A colorful #10 from the National Parkinson's Foundation greets the prospect with the acronym NPF made up of a striking pastel painting. The only words displayed appear at the top: "INSIDE: An accomplished artist's courageous struggle with Parkinson's disease ..." Most prospects will guess the pastel comes from an artist suffering with Parkinson's, and the letter inside confirms that, as both his picture and his story are delivered expertly. Then the reply card and labels tie the whole mailing together by featuring Jose Bernal's art (Archive code #604-671525-0901).
The letter does exactly what a nonprofit needs it to do today: Explain, not even too delicately, that the prospect has it good, but many others do not. The Johnson's box features seven large words: "Good health is an incredible gift, but ..." That thought is continued in the lede, which says, "Too many take it for granted. We shouldn't though. Good health can be taken from us or a loved one in an instant." That's called impactful writing.
Similarly, Orthodox Union engages the prospect immediately with its #10 outer, here asking in four different colors, "Can you name nine areas of Jewish life that your OU Membership supports?" Then, right underneath that teaser, it says, "It's time to renew!" In other words, it gives the prospect both reasons to get inside the envelope to find out the answers as well as to renew her membership (Archive code #609-179876-0901).
The next three mailings are all about the teaser, each potentially provoking prospects to at least open the envelope and put them on the path to donating. The American Legacy Foundation features former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in the corner card of its 5" x 11-1/2" envelope and then says in large type, "Please join me in fighting the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S." In case that wasn't enough, the back of the outer uses a faux-yellow sticky note with faux-handwriting from "C.E.K.", which says, "Urgent! This information could save your life or that of someone you love" (Archive code #604-717473-0901).
CureSearch-the National Childhood Cancer Foundation Children's Oncology Group-announces itself in its effort's the corner card and then pictures a healthy female teenager with a shaved head in the opposite corner. The teaser asks, "Are you braver than a 10th grader?" In smaller type, it says, "She did what most kids wouldn't do for the 12, 500 children every year who don't have a choice..." The letter cleverly follows up on this, with before (with long blond hair) and after (bald) pictures of Kendra, who saw her 5-year-old brother battle cancer and win, and copy like this: "You don't have to do anything as drastic as shaving your head like Kendra, but by sending a gift of $20, $35 or even $50 ..." (Archive code #613-717493-0901).
Lastly, an envelope package from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children features its well-known co-founder John Walsh (host of "America's Most Wanted" and whose son was abducted and murdered) in the corner card, including this photo, but really draws the attention with its teaser, "It was easier to find a missing car than a missing child." Inside, the four-page letter, buckslip and even reply card-which includes the message that "No one thinks it will happen to their family ... and we are passionate about making sure it doesn't"-hammers away with disturbing statistics and the reality that American children remain vulnerable, but that this organization can help make many of them safer (Archive code #613-171865-0901).