If a mailing is working, don't change it (at least till something works better). This is the mantra of many a marketer. But what if what's working is change itself? This is the case for the Seamen's Church Institute (SCI), a nonprofit organization serving merchant seaman.
The SCI packages we received in July's mail (609SECHIN0703), as well as in July 2002, and November and December 2001, each contained a different two-page solicitation letter.
But these weren't tests, says SCI Director of Development Henry Enright. No testing has been done in at least the seven years Enright has headed development. "I wish we had the resources to [test]. But budget
and HR limitations make it difficult," he explains.
And regardless of response, SCI has no plans to mail any of the letters a second time. The letters mailed in 2001 and 2002 wouldn't make sense as repeat mailings anyway, as the content was dated, explaining current activities and funding needs.
The most recent letter, however, could be a control in the making. Aside from one mention of current advocacy efforts, its plea is timelessand emotional. It begins:
Imagine that you've just made a month-long voyage with a cargo of consumer goods ... Along the way, you and your shipmates have weathered 'washing machine' seas, which crashed 20-foot waves into your vessel ... for hours on end. Spring thunderstorms ... rolled over the vessel almost every afternoon. When periods of calm did occur, it was all too easy to get lost in the loneliness caused by wearying work shifts, family separation ... and just the simple, primal yearning to feel the earth under one's feet.
Next, it explains that when you arrive in port, you and your shipmates are considered security risks and denied shore accessyou're unable to see or call "your wife, your children, your parents. ... Despite a true appreciation for America's guardedness, your emotions race from frustration ... to profound sadness."
The closing paragraph suggests:
Simply fill out the enclosed donation envelope ... Then take a moment to call a friend ... your spouse or children, knowing that you've helped place such a simple pleasure within the reach of a lonesome seafarer.
This new emotional tone, however, was less a lift strategy than a reflection of change within the organization. Enright, the letter's author, explains, "We have a new executive director, and I wanted the tone to match [her] very personal communication style." The letter, after all, is signed by her.
Only a CRE accompanies the letter in a simple, #10 outer envelope. No brochure. No reply cardthe response form is printed on the underside of the envelope's oversized flap.
With a limited budget, the simplicity isn't surprising. Even list acquisition, which Enright sees as essential, succumbs to more pressing fiscal demands of the 169-year-old organization. SCI mails about 8,500 pieces to its current and past donors just three times per year.
Infrequent mailings to many repeat prospects increase reliance on the letter's strength and varietybut it seems to be pulling its weight. Figures weren't in yet for the new
letter, but Enright says, "My sense is that it's doing well."
Will record donations slow the tides of change? Nope, says Enright. "We will change the letter for the next mailing. But, in all likelihood, we will continue to assert this style of writing."
It's hard to say for sure why this simple package works for SCI. Perhaps lack of clutter places little burden on the reader's attention, and the change prevents reader lethargy ... or Seamen's-sickness.