Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First Impressions

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.





  1. The last time I opened a solicitation mailing was at Christmas to glean the return mailing stickers from it. But mom blogs, I am a sucker for mom blogs. I will sign up for their daily emails in a heart beat for a chance to win a cute bag. Today, my two favorite mom blogs had the same theme "Give to my favorite charity". What mom won't think about giving money to their favorite mom bloggers charity?

    So some thoughts on their last impressions:

    What potholders, tigers, and Ethiopia have in common. http://simplemom.net/ethiopia-phase-2/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+simplemom+%28Simple+Mom%29

    I love this ask. Cute story, clear reasons why to give and an easy way to give complete with 2 options and videos on how to do it if mom with three screaming banshees running around the house can't figure out how to go to the website and create an account.

    The Power of Moms


    This one disappointing me a bit especially since it's my most read (and talked about with my eye rolling husband)blog. One sentence completely turned me off. I just want to tell Jillee to stop being cute and tell me the truth.

    "SHARE a post or DONATE $5 or more to unlock a $5 donation from Johnson & Johnson and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to one of these four efforts helping women and children."

    What does that mean? Is the money from Johnson & Johnson locked away in a box somewhere and every time I click "share" the money is slowly released in $5 increments? I see this as similar to the "Your gift multiplied 16 times" that you referred to in your post. It makes me feel like Jillee is deceiving me just so I can have that "feel good" experience that will make me want to give money. Jillee went on to share one sentence about each of the 4 organizations. If this post did inspire me to give, I don’t know enough about the organizations to want to give to them, I might as well give $5 to a man standing on the corner – I know more about him then I do these 4 organizations.

    What do you think? Is solicitation by bloggers the new wave in fundraising?

  2. Well, since you mentioned it today Jessica... this blogger could use some new shoes... LOL I jest. I can't imagine this could be super successful, and in fact might turn more people off than gain supporters. I like the idea of a little or big box of $5 bills somewhere- care to help me find it?
    Maybe these bloggers are paid by advertisers to do this?
    Both of these blogs are chock full of ads, a revenue source for the bloggers... notice there are none on mine? ;)

  3. Sat in one of your web seminars this morning; good stuff. Thanks for what you do.

    I work at a large public university in college stewardship. We are now rethinking how to appropriately thank our donors ranging from gifts of $1 - $500. Currently, we send a simple envelope containing a postcard thanking them for their gift. Period. No additional asks, but also no further steps to take. Typically, it takes approximately 2 weeks from giving this gift to receiving your thanks from us.

    Do you feel that there should be something in this thank you directing them to act, whether that being making another gift, volunteering, checking out the website, connecting on social media, etc?

    Thanks for your thoughts.