The Winning Touch
The "dime-a-dozen" look has never been very effective in getting prospects and customers to notice and respond to direct mail campaigns. With high-end donors, who presumably don't have a lot of time to sift through their mail, it stands even less of a chance.
What does get people to look more closely at a mailing is handwriting. A 1998 Pitney Bowes/NFO Research study of the factors that affect consumers' decisions to open mailings found that hand-addressed mail from friends and family gets opened first. No brainer there.
But hand-addressed mail in general achieves the same intimate effect, resulting in a higher likelihood of being opened.
It was this effect that Special Olympics was counting on for boosting response to a hand-addressed, personalized mailing to its high-end, lapsed donors.
With the help of Epsilon, a national database and direct marketing company in Burlington, MA, Special Olympics targeted this segment of donors with a 4-3/4" x 6-1/2", card-size envelope mailing that featured a hand-addressed outer envelope and a First-Class stamp. To create the illusion of personal mail, there is no return address anywhere on the outer envelope.
Inside, donors find just a card and a postage-paid reply envelope affixed with live stamps. The card bears the Special Olympics logo on the front panel; the inside features a brief, printed request for a donation that is followed up with a hand-written note, personalized with the donor's most recent gift amount.
According to Mike Ewing, account director at Epsilon, this effort first mailed in June 1998. That initial test brought in 481 percent more response than the control effort, a mailing of freemium address labels, and convinced Special Olympics to roll out in June 1999. Next year, the nonprofit hopes to drop the campaign twice.
Ewing credits the success of the appeal to the highly personalized look achieved by the use of handwritten addresses and donation requests.
"The strategy was to get the mailing opened," said Ewing. The obvious bells and whistles--like premiums and teaser copy--wouldn't work with this audience, so Epsilon decided, "let's go backward," with a low-tech, high-touch campaign.
Because the cost of having people hand write addresses and messages in a direct mail package is expensive, Epsilon looked at several factors to select the right group of donors for this campaign, of which average donation amount and recency of last donation were important. The average donation level selected for this campaign falls between $50 and $100.
"We've found this appeal is the best ammunition for recent lapsed or at-risk donors," reports Ewing. He explains that when Special Olympics tested this campaign to a more general donor audience, it didn't make a big difference in response, but the back-end wasn't as good when comparing donation level and the cost to produce the campaign. With recent lapsed and at-risk donors, the net is much higher.
An interesting point about the handwritten note: Because each Special Olympics chapter develops relationships with the donors in its region, there is no name signed on the card. Ewing says that they could have used the name of a national level representative of the nonprofit, but that wouldn't compliment the local approach used in other communications mailed throughout the year.
The live postage--three-cent, 10-cent and 20-cent stamps--on the reply envelope is another success factor. Epsilon has done "fairly extensive testing" of several creative elements in the campaign, says Ewing, and the live postage BRE always outpulls the indicia-printed BRE.
Unlike most fund-raising direct mail packages, this effort doesn't have a donation form. To track response, Epsilon affixes a computer-generated label with the donor's name and address plus an effort code on the back of the BRE.
In case you need more proof beyond the lift in response that this creative approach gets attention, consider this: Epsilon's creative director for the Special Olympics project even fooled himself; he opened what he thought was a personal mailing, before recognizing it as the seed mailing of the campaign he had sent to his home address.