Frog in the Mailbox

September 7, 2014

There is something I love about going to get the mail – the walk up the dirt driveway, the squeaky metal door that doesn’t quite close and the optimism of unexpected delights, such as recently-ordered yoga attire or a magazine from my alma mater – all are a part of the greater experience. Even if my trip ends with a fistful of useless coupons I still maintain my subdued assurance of a trip worth taking.

 

An old acquaintance has recently returned to my rural route. Residing inside the metal box atop my mail has been an eager green frog with sticky limbs. She seems equally startled every time I open that ill-fitting door. There ensues the game of get-the-frog-out-of-the-mailbox-without-squealing-like-a…well, you get the picture. Late last week the large frog seemed to hold her breath while I used a glossy magazine as her life raft to safety.

 

Another not-so-delightful chum has also returned to my box: a hairy, black spider living in the dark, back corner who glares at me as I quickly retrieve my delivery. If I am feeling adventurous and have the paper to spare, I will force the arachnid out with curses and shrieks while dismantling the webs. The schedules these visitors follow seem coordinated, never appearing on the same day. More on that later.

The mailbox, promising little from its appearance, may expose wonder, delight or even disgust when ajar. Do your mailings pass the amazement test? Are you sending glossy, green frogs or hairy, black spiders? Better yet, are you actually sending your constituents something they are grateful to receive? Quality communications reflect your brand, informing your reader, acknowledging your supporters and volunteers, while communicating your goals and successes. All of this while emotionally connecting with your audience. Here’s how:

 

1. Start with aesthetics.

Of utmost importance is how your communications look. To reaffirm donors’ financial investments in your institutions delight them with a package worth opening. Does it evoke an emotion while affirming your credibility? Is it simple and clear? Good design isn’t expensive. It reinforces and promotes your brand, visibly communicating your message. Bad design is costly – and ugly. Poor design confuses the reader and just falls to the bottom of their pile. You don’t need a large design budget to compete with larger organizations. You need brand standards that reinforce your mission and can be used consistently across all mediums.

 

2. Each word should serve a purpose.

The words you use should also evoke a response. Choose them wisely. Tell an emotional story about the impact of a donor’s gift. Let your supporters know they are making a collective difference. Much has been said about nonprofits telling their story. To demonstrate the vast reach of this topic there is, for example, a conference devoted to the topic in Seattle, a digital storytelling contest at TechSoup and many, many, many other blog posts devoted to the topic. Tell your stories with words, in pictures and through video. Start today.

 

3. Useful and accurate data is imperative.

This leads to getting your mail into your constituents’ hands. Collect information from them. Go ahead. Ask for that mailing address, email, telephone number and whatever else you need to build your relationship. What data do you need to invite them to an event, send a newsletter or say thanks? This information is constantly changing. According to the United States Postal Service over 40 million change-of-address forms are submitted each year. Are you keeping up?

 

In fact the United States Postal Service says 33% of bulk mail is never delivered. If you get beyond that hurdle and actually get your envelope in the home of your constituent, what have you done to ensure it gets opened? Robert D. Putnam in Bowling Alone cites, “…eight of every nine direct mail appeals from nonprofit organizations are thrown away unopened.” Your letter had better look good and tell a darn compelling story.

 

Electronically speaking, the average business worker sends and receives over 105 emails daily, based on market research by The Radicati Group, Inc. Your communication is just one of one hundred in any given day. Is it getting read?

 

Ultimately I need a new mailbox with a tight door. Poor design strikes again. Clearly there is a small colony of insects calling my mailbox home. They are just the start of a food chain including spiders and frogs. Let’s hope we don’t move beyond the cute croakers. I think snakes are next in line.

 

Ultimately you need good design too. Convincing stories and accurate data complete the package. Are you feeding that donor relationship and moving them up the chain? Get out that blueprint and plan wisely.

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