The icing on your appeals program

publication date: May 20, 2014
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

Jonathon Grapsas photoWe’re in the silly season in Australia right now.

It’s the lead up to the end of the financial year (June 30), which means two things for fundraisers: getting their budgets approved for next year while simultaneously running their largest, or second largest (for some it’s Christmas) appeal of the year.

I’m no Nostradamus, but I do know these two things happen every single year. Which is why the lack of planning some fundraisers undertake staggers me, furiously running around just weeks and even days before their biggest appeal should land in mailboxes.

Part of me thinks for many it’s a reflection of the boredom and staleness of their appeals/direct mail program. It’s like that old ornament sitting on your mantelpiece—it’s been there forever and does a job, but it doesn’t particularly excite you.   

Adding excitement to your appeals

Your appeals program should excite you. And it’s time to stop thinking of your next mailing as part of the furniture.

We’re quite uniquely placed as an agency, wedged right between the old and the new. We spend half of our time developing direct mail programs and the other half in the digital world.

When it comes to warm/house appeals, our job is simple. Ensure we develop the best direct mail piece, laced with all of the elements we have spent years testing to maximize income. And then support with digital. 

That means a well-crafted letter that is story driven—reinforced with several lift pieces that are as authentic and real as possible. We want the pack to look and feel as if it’s been cobbled together by the CEOs themselves.

Add to that the usual suspects—a reminder mailing complete with a full-page response form and an intriguing envelope. By intriguing I mean plain (i.e. white, yellow or brown). It stands out because it looks like a personal piece of mail.

That’s the bread and butter. We know this stuff works. But how do we get that extra boost of income? In other words, the additional 10-15 per cent that is the icing on your appeal and helps ensure that (along with a brilliant mailing) you’ll make more net income than last year.

Here’s a list of ideas to top up your next appeal.

  • Every single mailing should include the advent of a campaign specific landing page on your website. A condensed, yet thorough version of your appeal for those who stumble across it (or go to your site to find). Ensure all of the most compelling content (elements of the story, quotes, video, etc.) are above the fold and just one click away from the donation page.
  • To easily ensure supporters can navigate their way to the landing page, there should be a striking and prominent banner on your homepage. Ideally, the banner contains an image of the beneficiary and some copy that entices or teases people to click through to find out more.
  • We know there is a direct correlation between the number of touch points in an appeal and the income it draws. Therefore, your appeal should be littered with a series of emails. Send them an email to warn them the appeal will land in their mailbox and then a number of appeals reminding them to respond.
  • Start including video in your appeal planning. I can read about the harrowing story of a young girl struck down with an aggressive form of childhood cancer. But seeing her mother retell the story, recounting the moment she was told her daughter had a 50:50 chance, is something else. Video doesn’t need to be expensive—in fact you don’t want/need something polished. It may mean doing it yourself or hiring a videographer. But budget a small amount to include in your direct mail appeals and it will more than pay for itself. Include it on the appeal-landing page and consider sending a DVD to high-value supporters.
  • Include a website pop up on your homepage. A pop up is one of those annoying boxes that appears when you land on a website to alert you to a specific offer—but they work. We include them with countdown clocks, which accentuates the sense of urgency. “There’s just 3 days and 4 hours left to make your tax-deductible gift to help kids like Ruby.” Include a target, a strong image, even a video within the pop up if you can. You’ll receive gifts from individuals who weren’t coming to your site to donate.
  • Consider a voice broadcast. It’s where you send a voice message to someone’s phone, either when they answer it in real time or when it goes to voicemail. They will typically come from a CEO explaining that they’re short of reaching their appeal target and need your help. Tip: whilst you can get people to make a donation immediately by speaking to one of your staff, remember that your appeal audience are responsive to direct-mail. Works best when you ask donors to send back their form. Though this might seem counter intuitive, it works—we see returns of around 7:1 for the investment in voice as a reminder method. 
  • Similarly, trial the use of SMS. Think about what you ask supporters to do. You can send them to a landing page if you have a brilliant supporting video to once again remind them why you want them to continue giving. Use links (shortened) to get around the 160-character issue. But as above, also ask them to send back their response form, in the post.

My point?

You shouldn’t accept that your appeal is a mailing, maybe with a reminder, that goes out the same way year on year.

The above are a sprinkling of ideas to ice your next appeal. It’s certainly not a fully exhaustive list and you should mix them up with a follow-up phone call, a mobile-optimised website, and all of the other trimmings that we know we should be doing.

Do the little things, and do them well, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t deliver 10-15 per cent more net income than you did last year. Go on, try it.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaign tactics.

For more information, email him, follow him on Twitter or check out


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