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Case study...
This highly effective direct mail "friend-raising" campaign added hundreds of well qualified -- and wealthy -- households to a community foundation's prospect base.

Shared with the generous permission of The Rhode Island Foundation...

The cover letter

Dear Jane Doe,

00000Welcome ... I hope.

00000I’m writing today to request the pleasure of your acquaintance.

00000There’s a place reserved for you on The Rhode Island Foundation’s mailing list ... but only if you agree and check, "Yes, I’m interested" on the enclosed reply card.

00000You’ll be in good company, that I can promise.

00000Many of the state’s most interesting, influential, and caring people are among the Foundation’s circle of friends.

00000The Rhode Island Foundation was founded in 1916 by a handful of community leaders. The Foundation has grown enormously since then. Today we manage 650 charitable funds set up by people determined to make their world a better place.

00000These are people, perhaps like you, who care passionately about the quality of Rhode Island’s schools ... the fate of the state’s natural resources ... the promise of our acclaimed arts scene ... the plight of Rhode Island’s homeless and starving children ... the preservation of landmark buildings ... the availability of medical care for low-income families ... the humane treatment of animals ... progress against stubborn diseases ...

00000... and so much more.

00000Adding your name to our circle of friends costs you nothing. You’ll never be solicited by us. And we’ll never trade your name to any other organization.

00000It’s exclusively for your information and inspiration.

00000So I hope you’ll join us. It would be such a pleasure to meet you at our next event.

00000Sincere regards,

00000Ronald V. Gallo, Ed.D. President & CEO

00000P.S. If you’d like answers now about setting up a philanthropic fund at The Rhode Island Foundation (how it works, the tax advantages, etc.), please give me a call anytime, at (401) 274-5464.

The package elements

The mailed package had four elements:
  1. An outbound envelope, oversized to stand out from the rest of the mail.
  2. A brief personalized cover letter (see above).
  3. An enclosure that unfolded to poster size and showed all the neat things (like special invitations) that someone joining the mailing list would receive. This was the offer.
  4. A postage-paid reply card so a person could easily say yes.
A portion of the enclosure showing the call to action...


A portion of the enclosure showing the items on offer...


The message on the outbound envelope (note the emotional hooks, exclusivity and flattery)...


The reply card...


The results

To start, we mailed the same package three times to the same list, simply deleting anyone who had responded from each subsequent mailing. The theory: most people who don't respond aren't really saying no; they're simply ignoring your piece. So try them again in a few months.

The mailings went out in June, September, and February to a cleaned-up list of about 3,300 households, each with annual reported income of $250,000 or more, each with assets of more than a million dollars. The list was purchased from Larkspur.

The June mailing brought in 100 yes responses. The September mailing added 75 more yes responses. The February mailing added yet another 37 yes responses. We learned an important lesson: one mailing does not exhaust the response. Had we stopped with one mailing, our total response rate would have been about 3%. Since we mailed three times, we built our response rate up to almost 7%.

Ultimately, during the life of the campaign, the foundation added more than 500 new "friends" to its house list, all of them local millionaires with an interest in philanthropy. The campaign in its first year cost roughly $20,000, which included all the creative costs, printing, and mailing. The financial rewards came quickly: within months of the mailing, one new "friend" called the foundation to make plans for a multi-million-dollar gift.

Copyright © 2005-2015 & ∞, by Tom Ahern and Ahern Donor Communications, Ink. All rights reserved. Cool portrait photo: Jonathan Feist
10 Johnson Road, Foster, RI 02825, Phone: 401-397-8104, Email: Twitter handle: thattomahern.