Last fall, Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that seeks to improve care and expand choice at the end of life through support, education and advocacy, was torn. Continue using targeted messaging that focuses on a specific issue it’s battling in its annual fund appeal—as had been its approach in the past—or go with broader messaging?
The original annual fund control was a survey package that Dennis Lonergan, principal/president for New York-based direct marketing consulting firm Eidolon Communications, says “clearly defines death with dignity as a choice issue along the lines of women’s choice or reproductive choices, other personal choices that people should have the liberty to make themselves.” Eidolon, the Compassion and Choices’ new direct mail agency in the fall, was inclined to go with broader messaging.
“We had a fairly long meeting with the program team and the development team and the communications team to try to develop not only keys for giving, but some narrative discussion for them,” John Graves, principal/vice president at Eidolon Communications, says. “We’d been struggling because it’s a very multipronged organization. They do counseling services. They do advocacy work. They’re involved in so many different areas that it’s sort of difficult to tell the story of Compassion & Choices.”
It decided to test that original control against a mailing with a broader, more moderate message on end of life issues. Graves explains, “The old control package was much more advocacy-focused. ‘Don’t let them take away your rights.’ Our package is more the control thing and the advocacy and the great work that they’re doing in the states and the great work that they’re doing with the media. It’s just broader.”
But the timing of the test couldn’t have been worse. “We mailed into October and the economic meltdown,” Graves says. “The new package that we had developed was actually the better-performing package, but only modestly. It wasn’t a clear-cut winner, and because of all of the uncertainty, we actually ended up retesting just to get a better picture and to make certain that we were actually making the right decision.”
The new package—which, in addition to broader, more moderate messaging, included an informational brochure that the control didn’t have—brought in an average gift almost $10 higher than the control (Archive code #601-708858-0907).
Encouraged by the success of the test with the broad message and how well it resonated with current donors, the organization decided to go out with a modified version for its acquisition appeal. The organization did a three-way test for the acquisition mailing that included the original control, the test from the annual-fund appeal with the informational brochure and the mailing featured here, a more condensed version of the original test with the same, broad copy approach, sans the informational brochure.
The test’s outer envelope features fresh copy that serves as both teaser and brand: “Truth over lies, Dignity over dogma, Free will over obedience. Here’s how to protect your choice at life’s end.” That first part of the teaser actually was coined by Compassion & Choices’ president, Barbara Coombs Lee, signer of the enclosed letter.
“I happened to notice it in a blog post that Barbara Coombs Lee had written and … in nine words, just kind of really captured what we stand for and what we’re up against with this issue,” Lonergan says-an example of how content for new media can be repurposed for other channels.
Inside is a four-page letter on two sheets of 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper that begins by laying out the broad issue at hand: “Your right to make informed decisions about end-of-life health care … is under sweeping attack.” The letter lays out Compassion & Choices’ role in advocating for death with dignity in a straightforward, yet passionate, way.