The Notorious Celebrity Brings In New Members

Teaser copy and photos can be a powerful 1-2 punch in nonprofit direct mail. This combo works well for the current member acquisition effort by the Union of Concerned Scientists. It’s been mailed for over three years, one of the latest of over 1,500 Grand Control mailings tracked by the giant database of direct mail and email (Who’s Mailing What!) The team behind the package was Mal Warwick Associates, where it was designed internally; the copywriter was Barry Cox.

The front of the #10 outer envelope shows three prominent media personalities — Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck — and a single line explaining their presence: “It’s time to clear the air … ” Inside, the four-page letter elaborates: “[they] are filling the airwaves with outright distortions every day about the reality of climate change.” According to UCS Membership Director John Mace, “These are 3 of the most recognizable pundits that have derided the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, and who have implied that respected climate scientists are being dishonest when they present their research findings.”

As shown below, a factsheet included in the package bolsters the case against the pundits by comparing their statements with facts and positions championed by the UCS. Mace explains the approach based on reason: “We don’t want or need to use hyperbole or guilt … Our members support us because they understand the need for an organization that takes positions based on what the science tells us are the best solutions.”

This technique — focusing on lightning-rod personalities — has worked wonders for other organizations in their direct mail fundraising appeals and is worth testing. Greenpeace and People for the American Way both mailed outers, for example, that identified a lineup of public figures likely to oppose their agendas.

A petition call-to-action on the order form is also a vital element of the mailing, Mace says. “Our members have consistently voiced a desire to be as involved in advancing our work as they can be, and actions such as these petitions give them that opportunity.” In this case, the prospect is addressing Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox News Channel’s parent company, and asking for changes to correct the “opinions” of its hosts with “facts.”

Mace also credits the premiums (address labels perfed to the order form, and a book on the back-end fulfillment) with lifting response. “The offer of the book premium, at a $35 gift level, serves to increase our average gift. We’ve seen the book serve to increase our membership retention/renewal rates; new members who sign up at the $35+ level and receive the book have a higher renewal rate.”

Overall, Mace believes that the package works “because it taps into concerns that our members have: that powerful forces are using misinformation and distorting science to protect short term interests at the expense of our long term health and safety; that we are in jeopardy of abandoning a reliance and respect for independent science; and that someone has to provide the research and background information that can be used to counter those trends.” He also points out that the other work of UCS – in energy, food and agriculture, and nuclear security issues — helps to maintain a “high retention rate” for members who come to UCS through this mailing.

Because of the success UCS has enjoyed in acquiring, engaging and retaining members, Mace anticipates that the group will continue to rely heavily on direct mail, despite some shift toward online. “[It’s] still an important source of new members,” he says. “I’ve always heard that organizations that stop mailing to supporters and begin using only online communications see a drop off in overall giving, even from donors who had only given online before. The mail continues to be a channel that donors rely on for news and information about an organization — even if that communication is a reminder to make a new gift.”

Publish date: June 27, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT