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Blogs by Jackie Biancolli Libby

Dispelling Myths: “Our Packages Should Be More Interesting”

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We’re back with another post in our series on punching holes in long-held direct marketing fundraising myths. One thing is clear: when searching for what really works for our clients’ programs, an analytical approach always puts us on the path to success.

Of course, every direct marketing program is different, which is why we continuously test.

This month’s myth is the often-heard: Our Packages Should Be More Interesting. Perhaps more than any other direct marketing myth, this one really speaks to the conflict between a gut feeling and hard data.

Many see a flashy, full-color envelope alongside a white envelope, and immediately assume the flashy color package will perform better. But the data-driven truth is that popular and visually pleasing images, photos, color, gloss, and inserts do not always lead to better direct mail performance.
More often than you would expect, the plain package is more successful—reminding us to always analyze the data to gauge performance, rather than rely on what pleases our eye. And don’t forget—while visually interesting–more colorful packages with bells and whistles are always more expensive.

To put some hard numbers to our assertions:

  • In one test, when Avalon isolated variables like envelope design to prove or disprove productivity, we found that the simpler carrier reliably generated 43% more revenue per thousand mailed.
  • We also tried printing four-color images on carriers, thinking that an eye-catching photo would lift response. But in another test, the black and white carrier generated 28% more revenue per thousand mailed.

Finding Inspiration at the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit

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Service. Gratitude. Innovation. Creativity. Exploration. Freedom. Courage. Justice.

These are the ideals John F. Kennedy set forth for the country to pursue during his presidency—and the inspirational themes of the third annual Kennedy Center Arts Summit that we were thrilled to attend in late April. The Summit brought together people from all facets of the arts community to explore these standards and discuss the concept of the citizen artist.

Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma co-hosted the Summit, which included captivating live performances, panel discussions, break-out sessions, and the announcement of the inaugural class of citizen artist fellows. Felllows are chosen for their contributions to the arts and their commitment to the principles of President Kennedy’s legacy. According to the Kennedy Center, “the Fellows will receive national recognition and opportunities to showcase their voice and work in order to further their trajectory and impact.”
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The afternoon breakout sessions focused on JFK’s eight ideals—service, gratitude, innovation, creativity, exploration, freedom, courage, and justice—and further explored the concept of the citizen artist and how the arts can transform communities. In the session I attended, on freedom, I had the opportunity to dance with Sonia Manzano (“Maria” from Sesame Street)!

At the closing reception, we were treated to a surprise performance featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and one of the new citizen artists. It was the perfect ending to a remarkable day that reminded us of all the Kennedy Center has to offer—not only through its world-class performances, but also through its community and educational outreach.

Visit the Kennedy Center’s website to watch videos from the Summit and get a taste of the talent and excitement those of us lucky enough to attend experienced.

Testing to Add Punch to a Successful Campaign

NTHP Notecard Appeal

Sometimes a minor tweak to an existing appeal package can be the key to refreshing an institutional approach. Avalon’s reply card test in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NTHP) March 2013 note card appeal proved to be an excellent example of this strategy.

OBJECTIVE: NTHP looked to Avalon to test ways to improve the performance of its annual note card appeal—specifically to increase the response rate and average gift while engaging the membership with this simple package.

STRATEGY: The note card control and test packages both included an elegant, highly personalized card featuring NTHP’s logo on the outside and compelling copy on the inside, with an individualized ask string, and Real-Pen-addressed outer envelope. The control package did not contain a reply card—instead, we included an ask in the body of the note, with a “handwritten” ask at the bottom. For the test package, we printed a matching reply card on 65-pound stock—heavier than a standard sheet of paper—to add perceived value to the package.

We mailed the note card appeal to all current (0-12 months) and recently lapsed (13-24 months) donors who had made a gift of between $20-$999.