Against the Odds
For all of you mailers bemoaning the state of the economy and how it's affecting direct mail campaigns, just be glad you didn't have to build-from the ground up-a brand-new direct-mail program—list and all—in the midst of the economic downturn. Such has been the case for The National Crittenton Foundation.
The 125-year-old organization recently broke from a relationship formed with the Child Welfare League of America in 1976, prompted by a call from its members for "increased support, increased visibility for not just the work that they do but for the issues that compelled girls and young women to end up in their agencies," says President Jeannette Pai-Espinosa. Formerly known as The National Florence Crittenton Mission, the organization changed its name, opened its headquarters in Portland, Ore., in 2007, and ventured out on its own.
Realizing the organization couldn't operate on its endowment forever, Pai-Espinosa and her team began building a development plan including a direct mail program.
"This year we've been more focused on not only increasing our direct capacity-building services to our member agencies, but also to raising money ourselves. Not really good timing, but that's how it happens," she says.
The organization sent its first direct mail campaign early this year to its housefile, which Pai-Espinosa admits is small, and another small list it rented comprised about 18,000 names. But being new to the game, there were some growing pains. The mailing had poor results that Pai-Espinosa blames on the list, which, it turned out, wasn't made up of its target audience as much as she had hoped.
This new acquisition mailing—only the second direct mail piece sent by the organization—was sent to a new rented list of 50,000 people, primarily women, ages 28 to 65, who have given to issues related to women and girls before.
Pai-Espinosa, who prior to joining the foundation was a partner at Metropolitan Group, where she worked with clients to develop their brands, communications and campaign strategies, applied her experience to create the package design and copy in-house.
"It stems from not only what our brand is, but also what I know and what I learned about what works and what doesn't work in building an emotional connection to an issue and an organization based on the brand and connecting that with your audience's core values," she shares.
Creating a mailing that would connect with the core values of the audience required getting in the audience's shoes—not a far stretch for Pai-Espinosa. "I knew that the mailer had to catch their attention. When they looked at the envelope, their interest had to be piqued quickly because I fit that demographic, and I get numerous letters and knew that ours had to look different from the outset," she explains.
The mailing-sent in conjunction with Mother's Day—includes a white #10 envelope, double-sized, 8-1/2" x 11" letter and self-mailing reply device. The envelope features only the organization's name, logo, address and tagline ("Empowering girls, young women and their families since 1883") in the corner card and the teaser, "1 out of 4 girls ..." with a faux hand-drawn circle around it in the lower left-hand corner (Archive code #601-717810-0905).
The elements inside have that same less-is-more quality to them. The letterhead at the top of the letter repeats the logo, organization name, tagline and address (including the web address) found on the outer envelope. Below that flows the body of the letter on top of a pale green background.
The letter begins by presenting the problem teased on the outer envelope ("Dear Friend, It's shocking but true - in the United States 1 out of 4 girls will be sexually or physically abused before the age of 18") and links this to Mother's Day by stressing that "evidence is growing about the link between childhood sexual abuse and teen pregnancy."
The letter follows that with the case for support ("Throughout their lives, through no fault of their own they face trauma and barriers that they alone may not be able to overcome"), backs up the case for support by listing how the organization can help and then closes with the ask ("Mother's Day is just around the corner! Why not take a minute to make an investment of $35, $50, $100, $500 or more in recognition of young mothers who are working hard to become self sufficient and to break intergenerational cycles of destructive behaviors and relationships").
The letter's tone conveys palpable authenticity. Adding to that is a sidebar that tells how Crittenton helped a young woman break the cycles of abuse and poverty in her family and includes a photo of Charese and her daughter, now a teenager herself.
Pai-Espinosa developed the reply device, as well, which ties in to the rest of the mailing thanks to a quote by Dr. Kate Waller Barrett from 1904 related to motherhood: "A little child! What wonderful potentialities lie within those words. In the hands of our children lies the future ... Let us give them every chance ..." The combined reply/BRE format is simple and a great low-cost option.
Though the mailing only consists of two main internal elements, the organization's URL is listed four times. It's listed twice on the back page of the letter: once within the ask and in the P.S. It was a very conscious effort on the organization's part.
"We're working hard to really understand how social networking and online interaction and access to information should affect not only your fundraising but your communication," Pai-Espinosa says. "This means understanding and having faith that somebody who gets a letter like ours, if they're interested, will go to the Web and find us. And they can find all of our agencies and more stories, too. So rather than including a list of agencies and including this and including that, we focus on getting their attention and driving them to our website."
Pai-Espinosa says response to this mailing has been more than 20 times greater than the organization's first campaign, which she says has a lot to do with the list the organization used the second time around.
The Vital Thank-You Letter
The National Crittenton Foundation President Jeannette Pai-Espinosa says after receiving the organization's thank-you letter for his gift in response to this mailing, a male donor was so impressed by the letterhead that he sent another contribution four times the size of his initial gift. "He just thought it was beautiful and it dignified the young women and what we were trying to do," she says. This shows the importance of integrating solid communication branding with development work, something Pai-Espinosa always stressed to clients when she was a consultant, which now is benefitting her organization.