A short while ago, one of our clients forwarded a copy of a letter he'd received from a new donor who joined after seeing an insert we had produced.
It was a lovely note, from a very kind-hearted person who was digging deep to support a new charity even though she had little in the way of disposable income. I wish I could re-produce it in full, but I haven't had the chance to ask the donor if she'd be okay with that. So for now, you'll have to make do with the 'headline' message, which appears in the headline of this post.
The truth is the insert we'd prepared was cheap, but we'd also gone to some effort to make sure it looked that way too.
So far, with this blog, I've tried to resist topics that might lead to a rant of some kind, but I'll admit now, cost and – most particularly – perceived cost is something I bang on about. This is why. Because it matters to donors. And they're right.
If you're asking for money, your request is somewhat undermined if you're using expensive materials that suggest you have money to burn.
It's not unusual these days for my solid, wooden desk to have a noticeable dip in it, where I've left a stack of appeals a new client has asked me to review. Almost without exception, they are printed on stock which my colleague, Mr Mark Phillips, likes to refer to as 'a plank of wood'. Heavy. Expensive. Pointless.
The next thing I tend to notice is the use of weird (and expensive) formats – which often end up in peculiar sized envelopes that bear no relation to what's inside them.
Now I have a suspicion that these envelopes have been sold in as 'standing out on the doormat'. Don't fall for it. It's a waste of money. We all know which envelope we'd open first - the hand-written, hand-stamped one that shows all the signs of being from someone we want to hear from.
So where does it all go wrong?
Well let's start with the intentions that are no doubt good. Charities want to show their donors that they are professional, can be trusted and are effective. All entirely laudable, but it's a mistake to think that the materials that do this have to be or look expensive.
What they do have to be is special - memorable, inspiring and personal. And you can do a thousand little things to produce materials that fit the bill. Yes, some of them do come at a cost, but you'll notice that it's a low 'perceived' cost i.e. Don't put your money into a gold envelope that will wind someone up, but instead (perhaps) some additional personalisation that will lift response.
Also, it's about the right approach for your audience. We often do several versions of the same pack, with the budget linked to what amount we are asking for and the justification it might need.
Here's a few old posts that give some good examples – this one about post-it notes, this one about ultra-personalisation and this one about attention to detail. And if by any chance you want to get regular reminders of what donors think about the communications they receive, Bluefrog runs this site. And you can follow on twitter, here, (though I see we need to update a little more regularly - I'm on it).
In the meantime, perhaps the most important point of all. I've read a lot of communications tool kits and branding documents over the years, but I don't think seen a single one that includes the following advice.
1. We should send out communications that are cheap and look it.
2. Use a light stock.
3. Use standard pack sizes unless there's a very good reason not to.
4. Never ever send out a pack that has a blank piece of paper in it (I reviewed one the other week that had 3 sides of A4 with nothing on it).
So here's an offer, the first charity who sends me proof that they have these points in theirs will receive a £50 donation from me and, no doubt, many nice letters like the one we received from their donors in the future. Click on the 'email me' button to send the relevant evidence...