Today, the reality is that people are more discerning with what they spend their money on. In other words, it’s as important as ever to make sure your message resonates with your target audience and stays near the top of its minds.
Animal welfare nonprofit The Humane Society of Fairfax County has a unique way of doing just that … and it lies on—believe it or not—the BRE. Typically, the BRE is nothing more than a bland envelope with the company’s address and a place to fill out a return address. Nothing fancy. Nothing noteworthy. But The Humane Society turns that notion on its head.
For its “Take Me Home” campaign, mailed in April to donors who have given to the animal welfare organization in the past, The Humane Society takes advantage of the empty real estate on the BRE to create brand awareness by using the image of a dog and cat “talking” to each other through the kind of thinking bubbles you see in a newspaper comic strip like “Garfield.” And that same dog and cat image can be found on all of the organization’s reply envelopes, with different “conversations” in the bubbles.
The idea behind this is to create a brand for donors, says Tonie Howard, vice president of animal care for Grizzard, the direct marketing agency that handles The Humane Society of Fairfax County’s direct mail campaigns. “In every single appeal with the BRE, the dog and cat have different messages. They kind of talk to each other,” Howard notes. “The reason that we do that is we know older donors especially will take the reply form and BRE and put it in their bills to pay basket, and we want them to identify this particular Humane Society with that donor. It’s a subtle branding, and it kind of gets them involved. It’s that warm, fuzzy feeling.”
Howard elaborates that Grizzard encourages its clients to advertise some of their special events, such as telethons or walks, with the dog and cat. “We try to spice them up because return envelopes are usually just a thank-you and a return address,” she adds.
The BRE isn’t the only area where The Humane Society of Fairfax County uses appealing imagery. In fact, the entire package contains vivid photos, from the outer envelope to the letter to the BRE. Mailed in an 8? x 4? white envelope, the outer jumps out at donors with a photograph of Hunter, a dog, with the phrase “Take me home” under the shot to tug at donors’ heartstrings (Archive code #610-716801-0809).
“Most people who are donating on a consistent basis to any Humane Society … we know that about 70 percent of households have animals currently, but probably at one point everyone has had an animal in their home, and they can just see and feel based on the emotion of ‘pick me,’ ‘take me home,’ and how hard it is walking through a shelter knowing that [the animals] are going to either be there a week or a month,” describes Howard.
And that helps get donors inside. Once they’re there, they find a two-page letter that again has the photo from the OE along with another Polaroid of a cat with the caption “Pick me!” underneath and yet another cat photograph on the second page of the letter. The Humane Society doesn’t just use any old photos here either. Howard says Grizzard is very selective with the photos, making sure the animals are looking at the donors to make more of a connection. After all, who can resist puppy dog eyes?
The letter starts by stating, “There’s nothing more heartbreaking than visiting an animal shelter.” And it emphasizes that the Humane Society needs “your support more than ever.” It then goes on to describe the story of Hunter—or Biscuit or Rover, depending on the Humane Society—and then goes on to detail Angel, the cat, on the reverse. These stories hit the animal lovers hard, but Howard says the organization makes it a point to tell donors exactly how their contributions will help. “We know in animal welfare we can get away with the emotions more, but we always do try to have as much information in the packages as possible like ‘your gift will help shelter, foster, spay and neuter,’” she highlights.
“Donors don’t want to hear about the economic situation. What they do want to know is are the adoptions down? … The baby boomers are very analytical. They almost look at their contributions as an investment and want to know that ‘Yes, if I give an extra $10, there really is a need,’” she adds.
Perfed to the bottom of the letter is the reply form, which also does not miss the opportunity to display more cute animals. The form includes three ask amounts based on donors’ prior giving life cycles as well as a blank field where donors can write in the amount they’d like to give.
Grizzard and The Humane Society of Fairfax County did match panels of 35,000 in April 2007 to test this piece against a decal control. Last year, it resulted in a 7 percent response rate and a $27 average gift, which Howard says is “pretty good for April.” It was rolled out in 2008 as the control as one of 10 donor appeals The Humane Society mails each year and is performing well.
That doesn’t mean Grizzard and the animal welfare organization, however, are standing pat. For each campaign, they update the stories of the animals. Just recently, Grizzard did tests using just a dog story or just a cat story versus including both. “We found that [in] the initial results, the dog story has pulled higher than the cat story, [but] we’re going to do some back-end analysis to determine the details,” explains Howard.
The tests will continue to come, as Grizzard plans to test note cards in a #9 envelope for lapsed donors in March, and tweaks to the April mailing are always in the works. But this control has been strong, even without offering a premium. “It’s kind of strange—we know that premiums typically will yield a higher percentage. We are always testing to try to have the donors be more involved in the mission-based as opposed to the premium-based. It was nice to see this was happening here. I’m glad it’s working on the mission and not so much a premium,” Howard concludes. IDM