FYI Blog

DMAW Marketing AdVents—December 2015


Check out the latest DMAW Marketing AdVents – and don’t miss Jamie Natelson’s “President’s Perspective” on page 3.

Jamie took the helm as President of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington in January. Jamie has been an integral part of the Avalon team since 2007, with more than 20 years of industry experience as consultant and client. Jamie’s forward-looking, creative, and strategic approach will serve the DMAW well, as she leads the organization in 2015.


December 3, 2015

Review and Refocus at Year End

Africare’s funding was stretched to the limit at the end of 2014, as the organization used available resources to help slow the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa. Heading into year end, Africare sought to shore up its revenue and prepare donors for the coming challenges of the new year. Objective: Avalon was tasked with providing […]

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October 30, 2015

DMAW Marketing AdVents—February 2015


Check out the latest DMAW Marketing AdVents – and don’t miss Jamie Natelson’s “President’s Perspective” on page 3.

Jamie took the helm as President of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington in January. Jamie has been an integral part of the Avalon team since 2007, with more than 20 years of industry experience as consultant and client. Jamie’s forward-looking, creative, and strategic approach will serve the DMAW well, as she leads the organization in 2015.


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February 11, 2015

Case Study: Including $1,000+ Donors in an Urgent Appeal

jm-gray-background 170x170In early April 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the controversial McCutcheon decision, which essentially allows individuals to donate millions of dollars to candidates and political parties and corrupt our political system. The League of Women Voters needed to quickly inform its members of the ramifications of the decision and solicit urgent funds to take action in opposition to the decision.

Objective: Avalon worked with the League to add an unbudgeted, urgent appeal in response to the McCutcheon decision. Compelling copy and art were rapidly designed for a direct mail and e-appeal asking supporters to speak out against secret money in elections by standing with the League.

Strategy: With a torn-from-the-headlines message and real urgency, we decided to mail deeply into the League’s file, and include the $1,000+ Leaders for Democracy members in the appeal. An urgentgram format was used to streamline production, and within days of the decision, the high-dollar, first-class version of the package was in the mail, with the low-dollar version following shortly after. An emailed companion effort was sent to those members with email addresses, in advance of the mailing.

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January 28, 2015

Case Study: Reinvigorating a Charter Member Base

jm-gray-background 170x170When the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens its doors in 2016, it will be a landmark, and a striking addition to the Smithsonian Institution on our National Mall. The Museum has been presenting exhibitions and programs at the Museum of American History, and focusing on building an impressive list of Charter Members who support the construction phase. Even with the Museum’s progress, like any organization, it faces attrition, and Members lapse. So Avalon had to come up with a package as striking as the future Museum.

NMAAHC needed a stand-out effort to not only bring in revenue, but also bring back valuable Charter Members as the opening of this new Museum approaches.

Avalon created a new package that offered an exclusive in-progress look at the building of the Museum, and encouraged lapsed Charter Members to renew their memberships. A large, 9.5″ x 8″ full-color insert visually captured the Members’ attention by showing through the back of a stand-out #11 carrier. This allowed Members to see the most current stage of the building’s development, and a rendering of the final Museum. The second side of the insert featured objects from the Museum’s collection, as well as the design for the interior of the building, and a map of its location on the National Mall.

The two-page letter focused on the continued need for Charter Members’ support leading up to the opening of the Museum, scheduled for 2016.

We mailed this reinstatement package to lapsed Members expiring between September 2010 and December 2012, with gifts between $25 and $1,000.

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October 7, 2014

Case Study: A Brand New Approach

OBJECTIVE: The National Trust for Historic Preservationchallenged Avalon to improve the performance of its online member acquisition efforts, which had flattened over time. NTHP was sending several single effort e-acquisitions each year, but it was not bringing in a significant number of new donors. Avalon branded a new campaign that could create urgency and engage more prospective donors.


NTHP May FY13 6-Effort Email SeriesSTRATEGY AND AUDIENCE: Membership Month was launched. This six-effort series included traditional membership messaging, while also introducing a month devoted to members and building on the base, with a goal of adding 150 new members. The copy and subject lines increased in urgency as the month progressed, and final emails included progress updates toward the goal. 


Recipients of the Membership Month e-acquisition campaign were lapsed donors and non-donors with email addresses.


RESULTS: The Membership Month campaign significantly improved NTHP’s e-acquisition performance. Over the series, this campaign had a 0.04% response rate and a $38.49 average gift. The 331 new joins represented the highest number of new members from any e-campaign that year — even eclipsing a year-end multi-effort campaign that included a matching gift offer. The Membership Month strategy brought in 256% more new joins than all the single email efforts combined, while netting $37.05 per donor (in place of a budgeted investment per donor).

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May 21, 2014

The Known Knowns

Cross-channel strategies are ideal, but they do not always work. We all know that surveys are great engagement strategies in direct mail and that sustainer invitations work best on the phone… but is that the only place they will work? Avalon challenged those assumptions for the League of Women Voters and for the National Museum of the American Indian and here are the results.


OBJECTIVE: The League of Women Voters needed to revitalize its online acquisition program by finding a new way to engage and acquire new donors.


LWV efr FYI - april 2014STRATEGY and AUDIENCE: Knowing how successfully the League had used a direct mail survey appeal, Avalon created an online version of the National Opinion Survey and follow-up email. The emails were sent to the League’s E-Activists, lapsed donors, and Care2-acquired lists. We deployed the emails in two phases: the first wave activated potential donors through the League’s fundamental voter protection messaging and asked recipients to make their voices heard by taking the League’s National Opinion Survey. The survey was concise, with ten questions that solicited constituents’ opinions on critical voter-protection issues. Once the survey was completed, the recipient was redirected to a confirmation page containing a thank you message with a soft ask.


Phase two of the email went to all recipients of the National Opinion Survey email, except for those who gave to the soft ask after the survey. We crafted this second wave with compelling messaging that discussed the dire state of voting rights today. The text detailed the League’s incredible track record of defending those rights nationwide for almost a century at both the local grassroots and national levels. Recipients were directly asked to join with the League in the fight to keep elections accessible to all citizens.


RESULTS: The results were amazing—more than 4,563 recipients completed the survey and 202 joined the League. This resulted in $6.56 net revenue per donor instead of the expected investment per donor. These results exceeded all expectations, as well as the previous fiscal year’s e-acquisition campaign, with a 169% higher click-through rate, 697% more gifts, and a 116% higher average gift.

The results for our Wellspring Society direct mail invitation for the National Museum of the American Indian were also impressive:

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April 17, 2014

The Bottom Line: Re-tool Your Approach

Is it better to think out of the box or look toward tried-and-true? The answer is obviously both. Sometimes in order to take a fresh approach, you must upend conventional wisdom, while at other times, you must rifle through the tool box, resize ideas and make them work for you.


The following case study demonstrates how Avalon rethought a Chesapeake Bay Foundation campaign with results that paid off. And for another example, see our write-up of the National Museum of the American Indian’s groundbreaking Dispelling Stereotypes campaign.


With the goal of upgrading the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) higher-dollar direct marketing donors to an annual gift of $1,000, Avalon created a donor upgrade campaign packed with information and a genuine personal touch.


CBF presidentsThe package was designed to encourage existing higher-dollar donors to increase their annual support and invite them to join the elite President’s Council. As the basis for the invitation, Avalon developed a sophisticated presentation of CBF’s 2014 agenda to save the Bay. Coming on the heels of the release of the State of the Bay report, this appeal highlighted key findings and stressed the need to continue CBF’s efforts to save the Bay. By focusing on specific data and findings, the CBF Action Plan drew on the Bay’s real-time needs to solicit increased support.


This highly personalized, first-ever mailing ― which featured a two-page letter and a four-page Action Plan insert — was sent to members in an official UPS carrier to stand out in the mailbox and also ensure timely delivery. The upscale packaging underscored that the President’s Council is an important group of members whose generous support is deeply needed and profoundly recognized.

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March 11, 2014

The Bottom Line: Refresh Your Creative Approach

This month’s case studies feature two instances where a shift in creative approach resulted in much-improved appeal response rates.


National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Holiday Appeal


Objective: Not wanting to forgo the traditionally blockbuster holiday and year-end giving season because of NCMEC’s potentially sad message, Avalon designed a creative appeal that would honor the organization’s mission, while compelling donors to make a contribution.


all 3 togetherStrategy and Audience: Addressing a heart-rending topic – missing and exploited children – at a time when many people are joyously gathering with their families, can be a daunting challenge. Avalon’s creative approach was to appeal for donors’ help in making other families’ gatherings whole again. We developed the compelling narrative of an empty chair at the holiday table, to draw in the donors and express broken families’ need for support and compassion – without overpowering donors with the frightening thought of a missing child at holiday time. The letter explained that through donor support, NCMEC helps to make sure that thousands of those chairs are filled with safe, happy children celebrating the holidays with their families. This heartfelt message from NCMEC President John Walsh – along with the image of a vulnerable child – struck the perfect balance between despair and hope; loss and recovery; grief and celebration. The red carrier and real return address label added to the appeal’s personal feel. We mailed to NCMEC’s 0-12 month donors ($10-$999) and 13-24 month donors ($50-999).


Results: This holiday appeal produced the highest gross and net revenues in NCMEC’s donor program history, beating the previous highest grossing appeal by 19%! The response rate was 43% higher than the previous year’s November appeal, and the average gift was 19% higher. New joins had a response rate of 8.7%, and multi-year members responded at 12.47%. Even lapsed donors responded at 3.38%.

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October 16, 2013

The Bottom Line: Ramp up Online Fundraising

These case studies feature three 2013 MAXI Award-winning online campaigns. The first describes how we modify messaging by effort and by donor to maximize results. The next case study explores an e-Renewal start-up program, and how its multi-channel focus benefited all channels. The third case study reviews how a tried-and-true campaign was bumped to launch an online emergency appeal, with terrific results.


National Museum of the American Indian E-Renewal Series


Objective: NMAI had a basic monthly e-Renewal series in place, but members received the same renewal email every month. To improve performance and renewal integration, Avalon sought to more closely tailor the messages by effort and to individual donors.


Strategy and Audience: A new series was designed and implemented to personalize each effort, renew more members, and raise more money. First, an R0 effort was added that was sent five months prior to expire and one month prior to the R1 mail and email, to encourage more members to renew early. The copy, including subject lines, was completely revamped to complement the mail, use more compelling institutional renewal language, and increase the urgency as the series progressed.


For example, the R3 (sent in the month of expire) highlighted a specific deadline (e.g., Your membership expires on Sunday) to increase urgency. The asks in the email and on the landing page were personalized to each member’s previous giving level, while also promoting a membership upgrade. Finally, expire groups were grouped together to streamline implementation.


Results: Tailored messaging and ask strings paid off big time, improving the overall e-Renewal series across several metrics: gross revenue up by 57%, response rate up by 25%, a 44% increase in the number of members renewed, and a 9% increase in average gift from the same time period as the previous fiscal year (April-November). NMAI’s new e-Renewal Series was the perfect solution to increase renewal rates, and complemented the direct mail perfectly – and the series has not affected performance in other channels.


The Trustees of Reservations e-Renewal Series:


Objective: The Trustees of Reservations had no online efforts to supplement its direct mail renewal program, and with a largely membership-based constituency, Avalon knew the best way to expand renewals would be to use a multi-channel approach — integrating an online element to maximize renewal revenue and increase member retention rates. An effective rolling e-Renewal program was just the ticket.

Strategy and Audience: Like the direct mail series, e-Renewals were sent monthly, on a rolling basis. The series began with R1, sent to donors three months before their membership expiration, and ended with R3, which donors received in their month of expire. We also incorporated a quarterly lapsed effort, emailing donors who were lapsed as far back as 48 months from the R1 expire month.


The emails reflected the over-arching message of preserving special places, and included evocative photographs from The Trustees’ properties. A personalized asking string was also implemented — based on previous giving history — to ensure a strong renewal average gift appropriate to each member. Each member’s donation page was customized to pre-select the level above his or her current giving to encourage member upgrading.


Results: The e-Renewals surpassed all budgeted and non-budgeted expectations with a very high 3.52% response rate (compared to the industry standard of 0.08% for fundraising emails — based on M+R’s 2012 eNonprofit Benchmark Study). The average gift was a remarkable $92.19, in part due to the individualized ask strategy that encouraged members to upgrade, which helped many donors to renew at levels over $100. In fact, the average monthly upgrade rate was extremely high at 16%.

The combined direct mail and email renewal results indicate that the overall multi-channel strategy is working to generate significantly more revenue. FY13 combined has already exceeded FY12, and is 21% ahead of last year’s renewals.

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September 9, 2013