Meet the Masters: Cary Castle
Cary Castle is currently the director of fundraising at Consumers Union (CU). CU is the largest independent tester of consumer products and services in the United States, and is best known for publishing Consumer Reports magazine. At CU, Castle is responsible for all fundraising activities through donor and membership direct marketing programs, as well as planned giving activities. Prior to CU, Castle was director of consumer marketing at the American Museum of Natural History, and promotion director at the National Audubon Society. In 1992, Castle was named one of the 100 most influential direct marketers by Inside Direct Mail's sister publication, Target Marketing. He now pauses to reflect on mystery cars, his time as an Echo awards judge and the rigors of washing machine tests.
Q: How did your time at Natural History magazine prepare you for a career at Consumers Union?
A: Natural History, published by the American Museum of Natural History since 1900, was a great training ground for direct response marketing. I learned a great deal about membership, premium/freemium offers and magazine
circulation direct response.
The circulation experience helped me to become the direct response fundraising director at CU. It makes sense for the person in this position to have some circulation experience, since the Consumer Reports list of 4 million paid subscribers is the primary prospecting list for the fundraising department here at CU.
Q: What has been your most successful direct mail campaign?
A: My most successful direct mail campaign was the January 2003 mailing here at CU. A new creative idea dramatically increased response. [Details are addressed below.]
Q: What are some of the upsides and downsides of using freemiums/premiums to acquire new donors?
A: We've not had great success with freemium offers. We just tested a new name-sticker package that we hope will be a winner. We have had more success with premiums. We created a series of nostalgic reprints of articles in a magazine format that were used successfully for about two years. Recently we have been able to use reprinted single articles that have had high readership in Consumer Reports.
Q: Consumers Union is a nonprofit organization, but many people perceive it as a for-profit enterprise. How has this public perception affected your appeal strategies?
A: When I took this job, many of my personal friends asked me why Consumer Reports needed a fundraiser. After starting at CU, I discovered that approximately 50 percent of the 4 million subscribers to Consumer Reports did not know we were a nonprofit
organization. They were also not aware that:
* we do not accept paid advertising;
* we do not accept free product samples from manufacturers; and
* we do not accept donations from any corporation.
We have very strict guidelines, so there would be no perception of influencing our product testing. We are
one of the most trusted names in the United States because of these principles.
A large part of my job is to educate our subscribers so we can convert them into donors. This is not an easy task, and I get many letters asking us to raise the price of the subscription instead of soliciting them for donations.
The new creative idea [I mentioned earlier] was to change the grand prize in our raffleused to raise funds through the mailfrom a cash prize to an actual Consumer Reports test car. The car is promoted as a mystery car, since naming the car could be seen as a product endorsementwhich we never do. This change, created by [fundraising consultant] Jerry Huntsinger, improved response 20 percent against all audiences by reinforcing our mission.
Q: Which nonprofit organizations do you find practice sound direct marketing?
A: As an Echo [awards] judge for the DMA, I get to see all of the packages that have been submitted for the last four years. They tend to run the gamut from very impressive to very terrible. Quite a few were in the category of 'what in the world were they thinking when they submitted this package for an award?'
The most impressive package over this four-year span was a multi-page letter soliciting current donors for major gifts to support Mercy Boys and Girls Home. The copy (and the results) were outstanding.
Q: Consumers Union is engrossed in the matter of analyzing products and services. Which recent product tests have really wowed you?
A: Since I give tours to our donors, I get to see the painstaking work that goes into product testing. I always start a donor tour in the washing machine lab because of the water tanks. The biggest variable in testing washers is primarily the water. So CU makes sure that each washer tested uses water with the same temperature, the same softness (or hardness) and same pH factor. Since we use the same detergent, the only variable becomes the washer.