Not Just An Ask: A Survey
Controversial issues lie at the heart of many nonprofit causes. In faith-based and political fundraising topics, for example, issues like stem cell research and gun control can become part of an appeal. But even in animal rights organizations, cultural issues like animal research or wearing fur may come into the spotlight.
When donating to a cause involves an ethical position rather than a call to action like "fight cancer" or "support the arts," one way for mailers to present an argument to prospects about where to stand on an issue is through surveys. One of the most effective direct mail involvement devices, surveys raise complex psychological questions and feed prospects the information they need to decide to support a cause.
In a recent control mailing sent in October, TechnoServe used a questionnaire to drive awareness of its mission to promote economic solutions to poverty in developing countries. The mailing was a test package, first dropped in fall 2007 and sent twice more since. The package includes a four-page letter, reply form with a questionnaire and a BRE. Since its first drop, the package design has remained the same with updates to the letter content. It's currently mailing out against another letter package with a white outer envelope that focuses on the organization's annual fund (Archive Code #605-176796-0811B).
Riding on the Kraft outer, an address label with the TechnoServe logo asks, "Fleeting Relief or Economic Solutions?" The same outer copy is repeated on the reply form and questionnaire, where eight questions help prospects evaluate the worth of sending temporary aid through ordinary relief organizations or providing economic resources through initiatives like TechnoServe's.
These are not simple yes or no questions, but clever rhetorical devices written to spur thinking about the finer points of TechnoServe's point of view-that long-term economic solutions are more effective than fleeting donations. For example, one question asks whether economic growth in the developing world should come "from within, utilizing natural resources and talents to build sustainable businesses," or from wealthier nations who impose change from without. "[The questionnaire] is generated from just getting people to think about development, as opposed to relief and the differences between the two. The whole point was really to emphasize the long-term impact of our development work," says Darlene Brown, director of donor relations for the Norwalk, Conn. and Washington, D.C.-based organization.
The letter begins by directing the prospect's attention to the survey ("As I imagine you responding to the enclosed questionnaire"), and continues to explain TechnoServe's mission and results. For those prospects who skim or jump to the end, aggressive copy in the P.S. drives home the gist of the letter. "Most donors, if they read nothing else, they read the P.S., so it's extremely important," says Brown.
This mailing was sent to nearly 150,000 prospects, including TechnoServe's prime segment of older, well-educated individuals, residing in urban areas with close to a 50/50 gender divide. Previous tests to the ask string allowed Brown to increase the initial ask from $25 to $30. "We did a test starting with $30 and found that we did, indeed, get a higher average gift, so now we start them with $30," she says. To weather the economic downturn, Brown says that TechnoServe has scaled back on its prospect mailings this year but not on its renewals. The organization also has invested in a profile of its database to improve some of its list selects for next year.
For now, the future of this mailing is uncertain as current results pour in and TechnoServe sets its mailing schedule for next year. Brown speculates that there will be updates to the letter content and perhaps a tweak to the outer envelope, but says she'll have to analyze this year's results first before planning the next drop. "We really need to see the end results since we've only mailed this package a few times," she cautions.
Currently the questionnaire is used purely to generate response, and as some prospects check off and even write in responses, Brown says that she could see it evolving into a more scientific study. The questionnaire will remain a staple of this control package, as the organization gathers the results of its most recent drop to confirm the questionnaire's apparent success. "The package last year did well compared to others and is generating a strong average gift," Brown says.
IDEA IN ACTION: A Name on the Reply
In recent years, TechnoServe has had its CEO Bruce McNamer signing its letters. In an effort to better link the letter to the reply form and to personalize the reply form, the CEO's name appears again at the top of the reply, i.e., "Dear Bruce, I agree." "Typically for our mailings we will have the reply directed to the signer of the letter ... we think that adding that bit of personalization helps," says Darlene Brown, director of donor relations for Technoserve.