FYI Blog

The Bottom Line: Finding a Fresh Approach in Acquisition

This month, we bring you two Avalon client case studies, describing how we capitalized on our clients’ distinctive qualities to improve lackluster donor prospecting results.


The National Museum of the American Indian’s donor acquisition performance had suffered since the recession, and the two formerly strong co-control packages were starting to stumble.  Avalon was tasked with finding a new and creative way to attract donors in a more cost-effective manner.

We developed a package that touched on the greater mission of the Museum, referencing common misconceptions about Native American cultures. The package contained a four-page letter, a seven-question “Cultural Stereotypes” survey, four four-color 3×8 bookmarks, and an RAE, all in a unique 6×9 carrier. Faux handwriting within the letter gave the package an extra sense of personalization, while the survey was a great way to engage prospects on dispelling stereotypes. The beautiful full-color bookmarks – with pictures of influential Native Americans, along with stories of how their lives impacted their communities and the world – really made the package stand out.


We mailed to a mix of outside lists and lapsed donors from 2000 to 2010, to tremendous success. The new package outperformed the old co-controls in every metric. It had a 50% higher response rate than the co-controls and one of the highest response rates for NMAI’s direct mail acquisition in more than four years. The strong average gift was also 10% higher than controls, and the highest average gift for direct mail acquisition for more than a year. And, despite the additional new package costs, the Dispelling Stereotypes package cost 9% less than the co-controls, which led to an incredible 56% lower investment per donor than the co-controls. This is the lowest cost/donor in more than four years.


All in all, this package more than achieved its goal of bringing in substantially more new donors at significantly lower costs.


As with NMAI’s acquisition program, The Kennedy Center’s prospecting needed a blockbuster package to announce the 2012/2013 season and improve on diminishing acquisition campaign performance.


Avalon came up with a show-stopping package that highlighted a tantalizing list of upcoming shows on the left side of the carrier. This design enticed potential new members’ interest in the coming Kennedy Center season, and got them to open the envelope. To further draw them in, the carrier also featured a peek-a-boo window that drew their attention to the vibrancy of Kennedy Center programming with full-color photos taken from the listed shows.


The messaging focused on member benefits that would enhance the prospects’ experience at the Kennedy Center – including the popular advanced-ticket priority for all performances. The reply device – designed to look like a Kennedy Center ticket – completed this messaging strategy.

We sent this package to a variety of outside lists, including arts, health, and catalogue genres, plus in-house lists including lapsed members, ticket buyers, and subscribers – with terrific results. The new season announcement package outperformed the old acquisition control with a 55% increase in response rate and a 9% increase in average gift. Additionally, this package had the highest acquisition response rate of any Kennedy Center acquisition package since 2004 and it is now the new control.