FYI Blog

The Bottom Line: Torn-from-the-Headlines Messaging

This month, we describe how we used current events to drive donor appeals and acquisition urgency and messaging.

The 2012 Presidential election was the ideal environment for the League of Women Voters to capitalize on their work, and use high-impact messaging to drive giving. But in an extremely competitive market: how could we make the League stand out? We looked to a growing story in the news for our answer. After the Citizen’s United Decision drastically changed the campaign landscape, small stories started to appear about cookie-cutter legislation pushing for voter ID laws across the country. So we knew we had an issue that was specific to the League’s work, but also had some fire.

In acquisition, we sought to not only centrally illustrate the League’s fundamental election work, but also to address the growing “War on Voters.” We created the Voter Protection Package, containing a four-page letter, an official-looking National Opinion Survey, a “standing up for voting rights” insert, and an insert that called upon prospects to defend our democracy by contacting their elected representatives. We used a very effective official-looking closed-faced survey carrier to urge prospects to open immediately. We mailed the new package to outside lists, lapsed donors, and online activists.


This package exceeded all expectations and was a complete success. Prior to roll-out, the cost/donor was $10.63 (an investment). With the new package, acquisition is netting $0.25/donor. Not only did the League see a 127% lift in response from the previous control, this response rate has been maintained for three years and is the highest recorded in more than 13 years of acquisition performance (gifts increased 26% in 2011 and 61% in 2012). The average gift has increased year over year, and is now 9% higher than the first mailing, which was 5% higher than the former control. This package has grown the League’s file size by 55% in three years to its highest number of 0-12 month donors in nine years! Even more astonishingly, this package has not faltered post-election, and has a current 1.60% response rate.


For the appeal, we created a multi-part package, centering on a four-page action plan memorandum — a “copy” of a memo from the League’s executive director to its president outlining the League’s election activities, and essential work to counter the “War on Voters” and protect citizens’ right to vote. A lift note from the League’s president stressed the importance of this election and the League’s work. We designed an official, institutional, brown kraft carrier with no traditional teaser, but with official notes to the Postmaster printed on the carrier to assert the importance of the mailing and to ensure it reached the addressee. Also, we added special League indicia with its tagline “Making Democracy Work” and the election box part of its logo.


The response exceeded all expectations, with gross and net revenue the highest in the League’s appeal history. The appeal generated 218% of budget with six gifts of $1,000 and one of $5,000. Using an official carrier to reflect the urgency and importance of this issue and including a proactive plan lifted the response rate to 7.59% (4.17% budgeted) — 70% higher than the 2011 response rate and the highest response rate ever for an August appeal. This high response rate did not diminish the strong $49.01 average gift — 6% higher than the previous year.


The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a unique organization, but it can be challenging to find the right messaging and package to appeal to a wider audience and grow the file. Our job was to design a cost-effective, compelling package to fit this bill and boost membership acquisition.


With marriage equality a primary issue across the county and in the news, our new package distinguished the Task Force and its mission by focusing on two key factors: the Task Force has a 40-year history of determination and success in the fight for full LGBT equality, and that full LGBT equality is about more than one issue. The letter took the very critical, timely topic of marriage equality and expanded it, explaining that the LGBT community also needed employment protections, relief from discrimination and violence, and full protection under the law. The package featured the provocative teaser “More than Marriage” and included a visual time line of the Task Force’s decades of successes, as well as a petition engagement device demanding full equality and social justice for all.


This acquisition package was tested with the Task Force’s core continuations prospect list and in-house names, and our message proved to be both timely and timeless. The new package lifted the response rate by 41%, and gross/thousand by 37%. It lowered the cost/donor by 32% in the original test, and 37% when it was rolled out as the new control. The response rate was the highest of any acquisition package in the Task Force’s history — clearly resonating with potential members and provoking a strong response. The More than Marriage package has made the Task Force’s acquisition program more effective and more efficient overall.