Last fall, Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that seeks to improve care and expand choice at the end of life through support, education and advocacy, was torn. Continue using targeted messaging that focuses on a specific issue it's battling in its annual fund appeal—as had been its approach in the past—or go with broader messaging?
The original annual fund control was a survey package that Dennis Lonergan, principal/president for New York-based direct marketing consulting firm Eidolon Communications, says "clearly defines death with dignity as a choice issue along the lines of women's choice or reproductive choices, other personal choices that people should have the liberty to make themselves." Eidolon, the Compassion and Choices' new direct mail agency in the fall, was inclined to go with broader messaging.
"We had a fairly long meeting with the program team and the development team and the communications team to try to develop not only keys for giving, but some narrative discussion for them," John Graves, principal/vice president at Eidolon Communications, says. "We'd been struggling because it's a very multipronged organization. They do counseling services. They do advocacy work. They're involved in so many different areas that it's sort of difficult to tell the story of Compassion & Choices."
It decided to test that original control against a mailing with a broader, more moderate message on end of life issues. Graves explains, "The old control package was much more advocacy-focused. ‘Don't let them take away your rights.' Our package is more the control thing and the advocacy and the great work that they're doing in the states and the great work that they're doing with the media. It's just broader."
But the timing of the test couldn't have been worse. "We mailed into October and the economic meltdown," Graves says. "The new package that we had developed was actually the better-performing package, but only modestly. It wasn't a clear-cut winner, and because of all of the uncertainty, we actually ended up retesting just to get a better picture and to make certain that we were actually making the right decision."