Don't let anyone fool you, looks count. First impressions go a long way. Take this as a truth from a woman who is a wee bit polarizing (it happens). In the past week I've been thinking a great deal about the first and last impressions we have on our constituents. For those of us at colleges and universities, it begins when our future alumni are students. Remember this the next few weeks as commencement season is upon us.
For others, it begins when our constituents receive our communications. I saved all of my direct mail from nonprofits for the last week, and I'd love to share some thoughts on the first impressions they gave. In addition, I'd like to share some final impressions that I've seen lately that may cause you to pause and think. To keep it comparative, I'm talking true first and last impressions, the envelopes.
I received these two envelopes last week. Both of them, two days apart. So you're telling me that your strategy is to ask me once and never have a giving relationship with me again? Hmm... Don't you want to retain me and build my lifetime giving value? This doesn't inspire much confidence. On addition, is the address in the typewriter font supposed to fool constituents into thinking there's a woman named Gladys hand typing these? Sorry, 20/20/20, no donation for you, no matter how cute the kid is on your envelope.
Look! Brian Mullaney has been busy! He also has First Step, and has apparently hired the same mail house he uses for 20/20/20! Rut Roh, Brian, busted! By the way I received this solicitation the day in between the two others. I hope Brian got a deal...
The Prospect Park Alliance almost had me. I loved the words "join us" on the front and the great imagery of the park in use on the back of the envelope, but wham! The fine print doomed them... "Join today and enjoy a free prospect park aluminum water bottle" boo hiss... Unopened!
This envelope is an epic fail. A nickel? Really? Let me restate that... A nickel and a tote bag? Come on American Diabetes Association, we can do better, can't we? Do you make your money back on all the returned mail? Gathering unopened nickels like acorns? Sigh.
Feeding America also hit me twice in one week, with two separate messages. One involved veterans, and they both mentioned that my giving would be multiplied, effective at I rest glance, kudos. Of course one mentioned my free address labels and the other gave me a notepad to boot! On the back of the envelope with the bonus notepad is a biblical quote, now I'm not going to delve too deeply into religion, except to say, what if I were Jewish, Hindi, Muslim, or just not Christian, this completely alienates a portion of the American population, no?
Keep it simple folks. Tell them who you are and why your constituents should open this envelope. Don't make empty or broad promises and by all means, don't make it all about the swag. Make sure your mailing is headed to the right list, and for the right reason.
Finally, let's talk about last impressions. Be careful with your use of BREs and other reply devices. Don't hand them out like candy, don't say ridiculous things like on the envelope below.
It's been proven long ago that freestanding inserted BREs in alumni magazines, annual reports and other communications devices are a bad ROI. I equate it to those annoying cards that fall out of magazines while I'm trying to read my coveted Southern Living (thanks Mom) magazine on the subway every month. It makes it awkward and I feel like a litterbug if I don't chase them down the platform while trying not to get killed by an oncoming train... Talk about last impressions!
Don't mess up a thank you with an ask. For example, including a reply envelope with your receipts is blasphemy, a true slap in the face. You mean to tell me I just gave to you and you're asking me again before I can even get my wallet back in my pocket(book)? It's insulting. If you're going to insert an envelope, you better have a darned good reason and proof why it belongs there. I have seen some schools do a full page ad about annual giving and insert a reply device opposite that page, smart and on target. But an envelope in the middle of a faculty story or one that falls out of a thank you note? Tacky. Misplaced. Sure to draw ire. Be strategic about everything you do. Think through the small stuff. And if an envelope is a huge quandary, you can always mail a postcard that sends them to your online giving page. I would love to see this technique employed more. Perhaps some direct mail companies should do some testing here.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Perhaps we can even share examples of great envelopes and BREs in our community.