7 Ways to Keep the Faith-based Campaign Strong
Faith-based charities lean heavily on direct mail to keep them going and serve their missions. But even the most worthy cause in the world may not attract new donors or bigger gifts from existing donors during a down economy … unless, of course, the campaign is expertly crafted for prospects that the mailer knows like they’re family.
“What is essential is to understand your donors and what motivates them,” underscores Don Rossi, a direct response copywriter and coach based in Wylie, Texas. In other words, the faith-based group requires efforts that speak to them in a language and design that resonate as not only sincere and important, but also literally share that faith.
If you’re new to the faith-based market, you may be surprised to learn that the most important elements to a successful direct mail campaign are not that different from those for other sectors. “Your job is still to craft the right offer, for the right person, at the right time. I don’t think there is any ‘magic’ format. Choose the one that fits your message and the need of the moment,” asserts Rossi, who has been writing direct mail copy for Christian ministries since 1992.
“The principles still apply; you’re just talking to a different audience,” agrees Philip Zodhiates, CEO of the full-service direct marketing agency and list company Response Unlimited Inc. based in Waynesboro, Va., whose clients are approximately 90 percent faith-based and primarily evangelical.
Here are some key ways to understand that audience and improve your chances of getting them to respond:
1. Dig the Donor Mind-set
“People who donate to faith-based charities are a different breed—and I mean that in a good way. If you can make yourself feel the passion for God and his work that drives them, and if you have decent direct marketing skills and instincts, you will be successful,” claims Rossi.
If the marketer and copywriter understand the mission, the mailing becomes infused with genuine compassion and emotion. Rather than having to try to summon such enthusiasm, or even put it on, it’s advised to select faith-based clients whose work you already believe in.
“I think the most important thing to remember about prospecting for a faith-based client is that you are looking for people whose passion is the work you do, whether that work is translating the Bible, helping people trapped by addictions, feeding hungry orphans or whatever,” says Zodhiates.
2. Keep Writing Long Letters
Letters appear to be shrinking for many sectors, but the faith-based audience is not one of them. “The letter remains paramount for the package. Longer letters still work better,” claims Zodhiates, who adds that personalization also can work well, but he advises that you weigh it against the added cost.
The content of that letter? “Emotion, emotion, emotion,” hammers Rossi. Classic storytelling direct mail has plenty of emotion, and faith-based charities demand letters that touch people’s hearts and minds. Many of the best faith-based direct mail letters revolve around a central story, such as an orphanage that helped a young boy or a village that was rebuilt after getting ravaged by a hurricane.
How often and how long these letters are repeated depends largely on the subject matter of that letter. “We’ve had some [control] packages that we’ve used for eight to nine years, but others have run their course in a year or two. If we tie it into hot button issues or the news, you have more limited life,” comments Zodhiates, who has found that many of his firm’s efforts for the evangelical market work better with more timely content.
3. Design an Outer That Begs to Be Opened
As with most direct mail, the outer envelope can make or break the mailing. Copywriters should be actively involved with the outer’s conception and design. “I tell copywriters to spend 50 percent of their time on the carrier,” says Zodhiates. “If they don’t get that right, and you don’t get the recipients to open the envelope, the best letter in the world does you no good. The carrier is absolutely crucial for the success of the package.”
Rossi agrees, and adds, “I like carrier envelopes that intrigue me, look important or make me curious.” But he also cautions that designers and copywriters don’t go overboard in dressing up that outer; instead, they should fit the look to what they are trying to accomplish. “‘Good’ does not necessarily mean ‘classy’ or ‘expensive-looking.’ In the wrong context, those can be negatives,” he asserts.
Besides piquing the prospect’s curiosity, outers also can promise a benefit or use some news of the day. “Whatever it takes for them to open the carrier,” urges Zodhiates.
4. Tell Them What They Will Gain
A benefit can be defined as “an advantage or profit gained from something.” It’s less material and more ethereal in the case of the faith-based benefit, but make no mistake: It remains a benefit, and it’s key to making a potential donor feel connected to the cause. “You have to make it clear that they’re making a difference on a practical issue or something along those lines. Every fundraising effort has selfish motives for people to give, but [presents] different angles to give it,” explains Zodhiates.
In Rossi’s opinion, the worst mistake in a faith-based mailing is a poorly crafted or confusing offer. “Generally, I follow the same fundamental rule I would use when crafting any direct response offer—your gift of A, by B, will accomplish C. I try to inject as much emotion as possible into my descriptions,” he states. And he says he tries to never forget that what he’s really selling is benefit to the donor.
5. Consider Religious Response Boosters
Freemiums and premiums certainly have their place in faith-based marketing efforts, but only if they clearly work with the overall message and tone of the piece. “It’s important to keep in mind that the best ones are those that can be closely tied to the offer you’re presenting. I’m a big fan of donor involvement devices such as certificates, bookplates, prayer cards, matching checks, seed packages, etc.,” lists Rossi.
For the evangelical market, Zodhiates says his company generally shies away from freemiums and premiums in general. “If it’s an up-front premium, it has to be something that is related to the organization and will get them to give, like a DVD or something—and that’s basically a pitch for the organization,” he reveals. Usually, Zodhiates prefers not to use freemiums because of the expense. “The problem is that it can become like TV ministry, where you have to offer them a gift every time you get them to give.” In other words, it can get expensive as well as set the wrong precedent.
Premiums, however, can be useful for upgrading a donor to a higher gift level. “For instance, we’ll offer a book or something for a gift of $50, and that may improve the average gift,” describes Zodhiates.
6. Implement Web Components
Whether or not a direct mail campaign is going multichannel, there is one component that must be there before the direct mail piece is sent out: the website. “When a charity comes to us without a website, we say develop a good website first and then come back to us,” recounts Zodhiates, who summons a recent NonProfit Times study that declared almost twice as many potential donors went online after receiving a fundraising solicitation by mail than they did only three years ago—25 percent of recipients went online three years ago and 44 percent do today. Among the recipients more than 65 years old? The increases were even more dramatic.
7. Dealing With the Charlatan Factor
Call it the charlatan factor, with some prospects perhaps wary of fallacious religious outfits, just as many folks are wary of certain kinds of direct mail. “Yes, you’re going to have a disbelief or skepticism on the part of some recipients unless it’s somebody well-known, like The Salvation Army or the American Cancer Society. But that’s what you have to overcome with your copy,” says Zodhiates, who recommends that you use reference letters, describe what others think about the religious charity and talk about the work the charity does .
If the faith-based organization gets a high ranking from Charity Navigator, World Watchers or is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Zodhiates urges the mailer to showcase those emblems or seals.
Rossi suggests you treat the charlatan factor like you would any other potential objection that might arise in the donor’s mind. “Especially in prospecting copy, emphasize anything that would contribute to credibility—the number of years you’ve been around, awards you’ve won, endorsements you’ve received, memberships in watchdog/accountability organizations, the percentage of your budget that goes to programs … Consider using an insert and adding some of this information to your remit—even a sidebar,” he concludes. IDM