Last week, I had dinner with my parents at their apartment. It wasn’t anything special, just sharing some leftovers, but it was time together that I enjoyed.
After we finished the meal, my mom brought me something she recently received in the mail and asked me to look at it. It was a shiny tri-fold pamphlet sent to her from an organization I had never heard of before. It was nicely done piece of work with glossy pictures of elderly people with their arms around adult children. The text included quotes from grateful people around the United States and Canada about how great the organization was and how it helped them. The organization even thanked the reader for past support.
Of course, the group was asking for money. It suggested different ways to donate, including online gifts, planned gifts, and it even provided postage paid envelope to send a check or money order. They suggested having dinner parties to raise money for the organization, mailing campaigns to solicit money from your friends and family members, and even offered to set up a donation webpage for the respondent where one could post pictures and stories. The organization bent over backwards giving the potential supporter ways to make a difference. It was actually quite impressive, and an almost perfect appeal.
Except for two things.
The first problem was that my parents had never heard of this organization before and had never donated to it. Why would an organization thank for past support it had not received? I have often said that you cannot thank too much or too often, but in this case I am wrong. You have to have something to thank a person for, which this group did not have.
The second problem was that the organization that was trying to find a cure never really identified the malady that they are trying to cure. They mentioned several three lettered acronyms a number of times, but never said what the letters stood for. I read the brochure over and over, thinking I missed it. I have heard of diseases like ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), CF (Cystic Fibrosis), MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and MD (Muscular Dystrophy), but these combinations of letters were unknown to me. After scouring the entire pamphlet for a clue, I finally broke down and used my parents’ computer to Google the letters they mentioned, just to find what they were talking about. The odds are pretty good that unless you have a loved one with one of these medical issues, you would have absolutely no idea what they were talking about.
In my opinion, those two issues made this very nice looking, glossy pamphlet a failure and a waste of money for the organization that mailed it to my parents. My parents are not going to give money to an organization that thanked them for support they had never given, and they are not going to donate money to a group that could not make the effort to fully name the maladies they are trying to cure. Had the organization named the diseases and discussed how the symptoms affect those who have them, it would have been far more effective. I wonder how much it cost to print and mail thousands of these brochures to people who have no idea what diseases this group is trying to cure?
If you are going to use direct mail to solicit donations, make sure your mailings tell as much information about your cause as possible. Don’t assume people know what your acronyms stand for. The more you make your potential donor work to find out what you are talking about, the more likely your potential donor will simply throw your brochure in the recycling bin. I believe it is better to have too much information than not enough, and in the case of this beautiful brochure, it definitely did not have enough information. It’s too bad too, because it could have been a great example of what a fundraising effort could be, but it became an example of what not to be.