I’m constantly watching my mailbox and inbox to find great examples of marketing communications that really do their job. Sometimes I find examples that are so horrible I also have to point them out so you’ll avoid making the same mistake. This week I’ve got a great example of a year-end email appeal. It says “GO!” on multiple levels, and I’m going to tell you why it’s so effective.
Yet it includes one mistake. You may not think it’s horrible. And I understand why they did it. But I wish they wouldn’t and wish that all nonprofits would stop doing this.
Here’s what’s really great about this year-end email appeal:
- The subject line (which you can’t see here) adheres to my 5-point “Oh Goody!” rule. It’s to-the-point and keys into my desire to stretch my money: “Give by Thanksgiving and double your gift!” It also gives a deadline, so I’ve a reason to open it now and act. One of the things that’s great about year-end appeals is that folks are generally in a thankful and giving mood. At Thanksgiving they’re counting their blessings. During the December holidays they’re thinking about gifts and giving. So why not use these feelings people are already experiencing to gently tip them towards embracing your appeal?
- The sender is someone I recognize and trust. The executive director has been with the organization over 25 years, is well-known in the community as the face of the organization and is beloved.
- The salutation is personalized, which catches my attention.
- The header quickly summarizes the entire purpose of the appeal. Everything I need to know is there, even if I read nothing else. It (1) includes a photo of one person in need; (2) tells the donor how to be a hero; (3) recognizes the challenge grantor; (4) gives a clear deadline, and (5) tells me how much I can stretch my dollars.
- The first sentence of copy begins by asking me to imagine what it might be like to have an empty stomach. Especially during the holidays, when having to do without can be especially depressing. And it reminds me that some of my neighbors are feeling this way. It does all this in one simple sentence.
- The second sentence asks me right away to fix this problem. And it does so with a specific, rather than a vague, request. Notice it doesn’t ask me to “restore hope” or “show people you care.” Those are nice things, but they aren’t direct solutions. It also doesn’t ask me to do something impossible, like “end hunger.” That’s the organization’s mission, of course. But I can’t do that, nor do I believe that I can. What I can do is precisely what they ask: Give one person enough food for a special holiday meal.
- The next two paragraphs tell me a short story about one real person in trouble. It includes testimony indicating how much the donor’s gift will mean.
- The ask is simple, gracious (“If you’re able“) and pointed. And it reminds me my gift will be leveraged through the match.
- The close summarizes, again, the impact of my gift. Not the end of hunger in the community, state, country or world. Not the end of hunger for my neighbors all year round. But the end of hunger for my neighbors this Thanksgiving. It’s a reachable goal, and one that makes me feel good.
- Contact information is provided at the end of the email — just in case the reader wishes to talk to someone before making a donation. Plus the organization’s overarching mission is stated, putting the donor’s gift within the context of a very positive vision.
Here’s what’s not so great about this year-end email appeal:
This one may surprise many of you, but it happens to be a new pet peeve of mine. It’s something I think is very important, and it’s probably counter-intuitive to those of you who haven’t been following the debate about the overhead myth over the past year or so. Sadly, this P.S. reenforces the myth that the less spent on overhead, the better. While exorbitant, unnecessary spending is wasteful, the same cannot be said for extra spending that helps more people at a somewhat more expensive ratio. Would you not spend 3 cents on the dollar to cure cancer if 2 cents on the dollar couldn’t yield that result? Of course you would!
Thanks to a TED talk by Dan Pallotta that went viral, the watchdogs (Guidestar, Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance) finally sat up, took notice and did a complete 180 on how they rate charities’ effectiveness. The leading indicator is no longer low overhead (so the 4 stars awarded by Charity Navigator, while a very positive thing and something of which the Food Bank should rightly be proud, is not simply a reflection of how little they spend).
It’s going to take a concerted effort on the part of nonprofits to overcome years and years of pounding the overhead myth into people’s heads. Sadly, 62% of the American public now believes nonprofits spend too much on overhead. So a new charity that needs to spend 30 – 35% to develop programs and ramp up services starts out in a hole that’s very difficult to dig out of — regardless of the fact that they may be saving lives, restoring the environment or doing all sorts of beneficial things that really couldn’t be done for less expense. Even established nonprofits have this problem. Everyone needs to spend enough to get the job done. If you don’t have enough, you may as well have nothing. The Stanford Social Innovation Review calls this phenomenon The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle. [Somewhat ironic that this hunger organization played right into this starvation conundrum, no?]
It’s time for nonprofits to stop seeing themselves as bloated when they’re really not. It’s a bit like anorexic behavior. It’s unhealthy and creates a negative role model. There are other ways to respond to donors who ask about overhead expenses. I’d really love to see nonprofits eschew this form of patting themselves on the back. Tell folks you’ve got 4 stars for effectiveness. Let’s just STOP talking about overhead, okay? Pretty please.
If you’ve got an example of a great piece of marketing communication, please send it my way. Or if you receive something dreadful in the mail, pass it along. I’m looking for real life examples from which we all can learn. Thanks in advance for being on the lookout for “What Works; What Doesn’t!“
Speaking of Year-End Appeals…
There’s still time to make sure you get the most out of this year’s holiday giving season. Grab my Year-End Fundraising To-Do’s and Checklists. It’s a sort of “Cheat Sheet” to make sure you’ve got all your ducks nicely lined up and you’re not missing a few tweaks that could mean a big difference in your results. I promise you’ll more than make up the $17 bucks you spend — or I’ll make a donation to your nonprofit to assure that you do! Grab it today!
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net