National Wildlife Federation’s Anne Senft on Connecting With Boomers
With the online environment morphing at light speed, direct mail may seem like a stable but stagnant channel. But that’s certainly not the case for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a Reston, Va.-based nonprofit whose mission is to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for future generations. Anne Senft, senior director of membership marketing at the nonprofit, recently took a break from her busy schedule to explain the effect consumer trends have had on NWF’s copy, design and overall messaging strategies.
Target Marketing: What key consumer factors have shaped your direct mail program recently?
Anne Senft: The one that’s making us nervous is the aging of the baby boomers. Traditionally, donors have sent money to charities and just hoped that something good would come of it. But today, baby boomers want charities to be more accountable. They see their donations more as an investment, and they want to have more control over it, to be more involved, and they want to feel like they are making a direct impact. So, although NWF has always felt accountability to our donors, it is more important than ever that we let them know how their money is directly helping wildlife.
We also want to provide opportunities where they can get involved and truly feel empowered. How that is affecting us is that we are slowly but surely shifting the focus of our creative from us and how great we are to how the donors are enabling NWF to make the difference. We couldn’t do it without them, and we need to constantly reinforce that [message] with our donors.
TM: Are you using segmentation to target your messages?
AS: About a year and a half ago, we went with a new database provider, Merkle, and that has enabled better segmentation for us. We are looking at different things like gender and age, even geographic region. …
TM: Which copy approaches have you found work best?
AS: The copy approach that works with our members is emotion, trying to elicit an emotion out of the donors to inspire them to donate. Some people will give to charity because of rational reasons. But for the vast majority, it’s really an emotional decision because they have some connection with the cause.
Our CEO is a great storyteller, so we often use some of his stories about his grandson, Thaddeus, and how he wants to leave a better planet for him. … Another big thing is to use powerful images. For example—and this is kind of ubiquitous at this point—the polar bear out on the iceberg not able to get back to shore … I had my sister read one of our missions, it was about four pages, and I said, “What did you come away with?” She said, “What I remember most is the drowning polar bear cubs, because I’m a mother and I can relate to that.”
TM: What about your design strategy?
AS: Traditionally, our creative has been relatively simple, not too slick … it’s very grassroots. So, lots of powerful photos of wildlife—especially large, charismatic animals and birds—because that’s our brand. Now, as we move more to [address] the boomers, I mean it’s kind of uncharted territory, but we’re thinking that things that are a little bit more colorful that appeal to a younger audience [will work]. The thing with boomers is that they might be 60, but they see themselves as 40. So you don’t want to be putting a little kitten [in your creative] with knitting needles or anything [too cutesy] like that. We have to be conscious of that. And I can’t say that we have quite figured out what the right design strategy is going to be, but we are testing to figure it out.