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June 2010

Response Form Design: More Important Than You Think?

I’m currently preparing my first direct mail appeal and I’ve been making some tweaks to various elements, including the response form.

Response forms are often overlooked or are an afterthought, but they are absolutely vital.  They need to embody the marketing concept of your appeal, as often it might be the first thing a donor looks at.  A badly designed one could seriously harm your results.

I’ve been trawling the net for advice on putting together a response form and most of the advice seemed to come from a guy called Alan Sharpe.  Alan seems to be a bit of an expert on them! You can read his free advice or check out his e-book on the subject.

I also had a question about number of prompt boxes.  We’ve always used five boxes and a ‘choose your own amount’ space and I wasn't sure if this was too many choices or if we could improve this.  I asked the question on Twitter and got the following great advice - thanks everyone:

Response form-Twitter

Following on from that I decided to change the headline we use on our response form, turn it into more of a narrative, laser in some different (and slightly higher) donation amounts into the body of the appeal and remove the prompt boxes completely.

I’ll let you know how I get on - fingers crossed it has the positive impact on average gifts that I hope.

*UPDATE* I completely forgot that I'd commented on this post over at Queer Ideas last year.  I should've just posted that, as it contains loads of useful tips and advice - including my own comments.  Luckily I've followed my own advice and included a comments box!


Video Fundraising: It's the content that counts

Mark Phillips has a great post about the new See the Difference site that launched this week.  I started to comment on it, but it went on for so long that I thought I’d turn my comment into a post of it’s own...

My big worry for See the Difference is that it seems a very rational thing to do, with them relying on people to follow a thought process something like the following:

“I’m bored at lunch time.
What should I do?
I know.  I haven’t donated to charity for a while.
Should I go on to that new website. The one with the charity videos.
I’ll give £10 to the best video I watch.”

It just doesn’t seem credible.

The only time I seem to watch videos online (and an unscientific study of my colleagues seems to confirm this) is when someone sends me a link or a video is referenced in a blog post or article that I am reading.

I don’t generally go looking for videos to watch. I get someone else to do the work for me.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not the platform that’s important. It’s the content.

Putting together all charities videos in one place isn’t going to make people donate if they are not inspired to do so.

From that perspective See the Difference isn’t any different from You Tube.

The best videos will get watched, shared and raise money. It doesn’t matter where they’re uploaded to, compelling, emotional content with a clear call to action will always do well, regardless of medium.

Seth Godin makes this point in a post called ‘Viral Growth Trumps Faux Followers’.

What would you rather have? A video that is sent to 10,000 people who pass it on to 0.8 people or a video that is sent to 100 people who then pass it on to 1.7 people each?

The graph below shows the difference. 

Viral Growth

As Seth explains:

“The curves represent different ideas and different starting points. If you start with 10,000 fans and have an idea that on average nets .8 new people per generation, that means that 10,000 people will pass it on to 8000 people, and then 6400 people, etc. That's yellow on the graph. Pretty soon, it dies out.

"On the other hand, if you start with 100 people (99% less!) and the idea is twice as good (1.5 net passalong) it doesn't take long before you overtake the other plan.  (the green). That's not even including the compounding of new people getting you people.
But wait! If your idea is just a little more viral, a 1.7 passalong, wow, huge results. Infinity, here we come. That's the purple (of course.)”

From a fundraising point of view this means creating compelling content and then sharing it with your closest supporters. If the content is good enough then they will do the hard work for you and spread the message.  If you’ve only got an average video, then you can put it in as many places as you’d like and it’s still not going to attract lots of views.

To the defence of See the Difference (and I really hope it succeeds) they will be gathering e-mails and contact details of philanthropically minded people and if they get their e-marketing right and offer people the chance to rate videos, come up with a video of the month and keep in touch with people well, then they may secure long term support from people. 

They’ll also learn which videos do best and will hopefully share this knowledge and help charities create compelling content in the future (and move from ‘we’ to ‘you’).

Video can be very powerful and I’m sure it’s going to be increasingly important in fundraising. Its power has been demonstrated this week with the moving video created by Sussex Safer Roads to try and get people to buckle up.

Who’d have thought a 90 second film, created on a minimal budget, would be watched by over nine million people and gain media attention around the world?


Another Reading Round-Up

I've prepared this post a few days in advance and so by the time you're reading this I'll be nursing a hangover in Las Vegas!  Don't let that put you off though, there still should be something of interest in the articles below.  Have a great weekend.

Your donors seek significance. What are you doing about it? Also from Jeff, should you leave the teaser of your envelope?

The impact debate arises again. Sean (as usual) summarises things well.  Mark Phillips also provides some good insight into the debate.

Also, make sure you read his take on the Money for Good report that has been recently published, which is fascinating.

Lori reminds us not to forget our donors over the summer holidays

What makes people ineffective? Dan Ariely suggests seven things

John Grain on legacy motivations

Kev with some thoughts on what makes a good charity boss

Pamela with sometips on using video

Are you doing donor recognition properly?

A heart warming article on how you can use stories to change the world

Chris G with some good tips on networking (some more tips herefrom the recent NFP tweet-up in London)

Hippos and the customer experience

Seth Godin on deadlines

A number of interesting books have launched recently - I haven't read them yet, but they look good:

Tony Hsieh from Zappo's (my favourite customer service business) has written a book. Their values are why I love them.

Kivi has launched her Nonprofit Marketing guide (these articles on building relationships with shorter, more frequent relationships and knitting together your website, e-mail and social media might whet your appetite)

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine have launched their 'Networked Nonprofit' book.  Again, it looks a great read.


If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: what should you do when your direct mail breaks all the rules but still gets results?

That’s the question I’m currently facing in my new job and I’m torn.

Our current appeals break nearly every rule that you’ll see in a fundraising direct mail book.  In fact, I’m fairly certain Mal Warwick or Tom Ahernwould hold up the appeals as good examples of how not to do fundraising direct mail.

Our appeal letters to current supporters are wordy, hard to read, use complicated language, bury the ask (if they ask at all), don’t have a p.s., don’t use underlining, italics or bold to emphasise points and break just about every rule you could name. 

However, the results look pretty good: over the last five years response rates have never dropped below 10% and average gifts have increased year on year.

My big worry is that supporters have got used to our style and if I change too much, too quickly then they won’t recognise it is from us and will stop giving.  On the other hand, by making some changes it might be possible to increase response rates to over 20%.

Ultimately it will come down to testing and tweaking the appeals to maximise income, but it just goes to show that you can break the rules and still have some success...

I’ll report back on the changes I make and the effect they have on results. 

In the meantime if you have any ideas or suggestions then let me know.


Don't leave it too long to ask for a second date...

I’m a big fan of analogies between romance, love, dating and fundraising.  If a lot of charities treated their loved ones like they treated their donors then they would soon find themselves out the door!

Recent research by direct marketing agency DMS got me thinking of another analogy.

As reported in Third Sector, they found that the chances of a one off donor signing up for a regular gift halved if you left it longer than 60 days to ask.

Often charities are worried about asking too soon after a person gives for a first time.

However, imagine if you’d been on a really great date and were waiting for the phone to ring to be asked again.  If the person left it too long to get in touch then you’d think they weren’t interested and you might start looking elsewhere.

This research seems to suggest the same goes for donors and you needn’t be shy about asking them to give again relatively soon after their first gift.  You don’t want to be too pushy (which is why I wouldn’t recommend asking for a gift in a thank you letter) and too persistent if they say no (you’ll quickly spend more on mailing/phoning them than they originally gave), but similarly don’t leave it too long to ask for a second date!

Other articles on love & fundraising:

Love you audienceby Scribbly Bark

All is fair in love and supporter relationships by Amanda Santer

What love letter would you write... by Stephen George

How do you love your donors? by Jeff Brooks

Are your donors feeling the love? by Sandy Rees


Legacy Advertising: Great Idea or Waste of Space?

I've been amazed at how many phone calls I've received over the last couple of weeks from advertisers offering me 'a great deal' and an 'unmissable opportunity' to advertise my charity in their esteemed publications and websites.

I'll be honest and say I'm a bit sceptical about advertising in solicitor's publications and on websites/magazines for the over 50's as I haven't seen any hard evidence that someone has chosen to leave a legacy because of an advert they'd seen in one of their brochures.

There are two main problems with this type of legacy advertising:

  1. So many other charities are advertising with these publications/websites that it is almost impossible to produce a compelling enough advert that will make someone want to give.
  2. Leaving a gift in your will to a charity is not done on a whim.  It is a deeply personal decision that reflects your values, beliefs and (possibly) a lifetime of giving and support to that organisation.

The money spent on advertising for legacies would be better invested on research to understand your donors and their motives for giving and then using this research to produce outstanding communications that would inspire them to want to leave a legacy to you.

This might be harder work, but I'm convinced it will be far more successful in the long run. 

I would love to hear if anyone has any success stories about advertising for legacies in this way.  I asked about this on Twitter and the responses I got from @parkeslife, @markyphillips and @derekhumphries suggested I am right to be sceptical...


Thank You!

I just wanted to write a quick post and say a massive thank you to everyone who has taken the time to wish me luck in my new job.  The good wishes and advice have been greatly appreciated and it’s been very humbling to receive so many e-mails, tweets and texts.

I’ll keep you updated on how things progress and will hopefully be able to share some of the decisions I have to make, the plans I put in place and to seek out your advice on the best course of action.

My first week has been a really interesting one.  I’ve been made to feel extremely welcome by my colleagues and there is a good vibe to the place.  Most importantly I’ve been greatly impressed by the variety and value of the projects I’ll be raising money for.

It’s been fascinating reviewing the fundraising programme and seeing the things that have been done really well, but at the same time identifying some potential areas for improvement.  Hopefully I’ve already identified a couple of easy wins.

Thanks again and if you are in the UK then enjoy the sunshine this weekend!