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NMOA Direct Marketing Article
Secrets to Fundraising Success
By Bob Bly

LK wrote to me with this question:

"I am working on increasing the success of a nonprofit American Cancer Society telethon in my home town. This telethon runs from noon to 11pm on Saturday and noon to 10pm on Sunday. I am hoping to use effective marketing to increase its profit and success, and I have a year to do so. As a marketing expert, do you have any advice or can you offer any assistance in this project?"

Unfortunately, my combined experience in these areas - telethons and fundraising - could fit easily in a thimble. So I turned to my erstwhile colleague, Jerry Huntsinger, for some help. Jerry, considered by many to be the top fundraising copywriter on the planet, specializes in direct mail, not TV. But his advice can still help us here.

To begin with, Jerry says it's important for fundraisers to know their audience, which he defines as "65-year-old women." Decades of experience show that you should aim your message, entertainment, and programming toward women in their 60s -- because they are the viewers most likely to donate. Offering a "response premium" - a free gift you get when you make a donation - works well in fundraising in general and is especially effective in TV. You rarely see a Public Television fundraising campaign that doesn't involve tote bags, books, videos, and other free gifts given for varying levels of donation.

Does the American Cancer Society have materials you can offer as premiums, LK? Ask them. For instance, viewers might desire a report on the latest advances in cancer research - and if they
have to send in a modest donation to get it, offering the report as a premium may increase your total pledges. When you broadcast your telethon, keep in mind the reason why people give money: primarily to feel good about themselves.

"When I write a fundraising package, I interweave two subjects in the copy: the benefits to those who will be helped by the donation, and the benefits to the person giving the donation, which is primarily that they will feel good about themselves," says Jerry. Appeal to both the viewer's emotions and her intellect during the program. Tell moving stories of struggles with cancer and how the American Cancer Society has helped so many cope with the disease. If you can focus on the stories of a few local residents with cancer who have been helped through the generosity of the Society, so much the better. Joseph J. Kelley, Jr., a former Eisenhower speechwriter, observes:

"If a newspaper reports the sad story of a youngster dying of cancer and how the family is planning an early Christmas for him, letters, money, and gifts will come to them from perfect strangers. People sympathize with and are saddened by the plight of an individual." At the same time, inject positive news into your program: breakthroughs in cancer research, hope for a cure, important research funded through the Society, how the donation will be used. It is emotion that prompts the urge to donate, says Huntsinger, but people often rationalize the decision to give money intellectually before mailing the check or picking up the phone to pledge. So have both emotional and logical appeals in your program. Emotional: Timmy's family has new hope thanks to the American Cancer Society, and your pledge can help more families like Timmy's. Logical: 3,727 cancer researchers receive funding from ACS.

Celebrities can increase results in fundraising; look at MD and Jerry Lewis. Last year, the 38th annual Jerry Lewis Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association raised a record-breaking $60 million in 21 ˝ hours. If you have a local celebrity you can use, even a local news anchor, recruit him or her to the cause.

Will the American Cancer Society agree to time their fundraising mailings to your city with the telethon? Response rates to their direct mail fundraising efforts will be higher if they mail during this time. (Publisher's Clearinghouse always gets its best direct mail response rates when mailing coincide with airing of their TV commercials.)

About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). Visit:
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