American Leprosy Missions Builds Awareness and Contributions

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Despite limited public awareness of its cause, American Leprosy Missions has developed a direct marketing program that brought in more than $3 million in 2000 and has raised expectations for this year.


Last April, the nonprofit hired veteran TV personality Art Linkletter as its first official spokesman, and the holiday 2000 mailing featuring Linkletter brought in $127,000, nearly twice as much as previous Christmas appeals.


Linkletter will do three direct mail appeals to the nonprofit's regular donor file and one mailing to major donors this year.


An infomercial featuring Linkletter began airing in January. Complete results are not in yet, but chief development officer Robert S. Hobbs said it is outperforming the previous TV appeal.


One of the keys to American Leprosy Missions' success is return on investment.


American Leprosy Missions sends 15 direct mail appeals yearly through the Domain Group, the nonprofit's direct marketing agency. The direct mail appeals include a monthly mailing to the house list of 28,000 active donors; an Easter mailing and an end-of-year mailing to its 28,000 active donors and 10,000 lapsed donors; and a special mailing to 8,000 lapsed donors. The ROI on these direct mail appeals is $4 for every dollar spent.


The nonprofit also sends 12 annual inhouse mailings to major donors who were identified by the Domain Group. The ROI is $25 for every dollar spent.


A newsletter goes out four or five times a year to the charity's 28,000 active donors as well as 7,000 selected lapsed donors. It has an ROI of $3.22 for every dollar spent.


Last May, the charity partnered with Habitat for Humanity International to build 300 homes for leprosy patients. In July, American Leprosy Missions appealed to 678 major donors for funding for this project. The appeal brought in $67,000 and had a 14.16 percent response rate and an average gift of $695.


"The celebrity of Habitat for Humanity helped us," Hobbs said. The next joint appeal is scheduled for July.


Though many people think of leprosy as a biblical malady, this bacterial disease, which causes nerve damage that can result in deformities and blindness, is prevalent in poor countries such as India and Ethiopia. Last year 678,758 new cases were reported, according to American Leprosy Missions.


American Leprosy Missions spends $300,000 to $400,000 on television appeals. Acquiring a new donor through these appeals costs the organization $90 per donor. But instead of breaking even, as expected because they are considered prospecting efforts, television appeals bring in $1.50 for every dollar spent.


Hobbs attributes these successful returns to leadership that is willing to make the investment to acquire new donors and cultivate existing donors.


"Our leadership understands and supports development and is willing to put resources behind it," he said.


Much of the nonprofit's success is the result of changes to direct marketing made in 1995, when Christopher J. Doyle took over as CEO of the charity. Doyle hired Hobbs as his chief development officer and the Domain Group as the direct marketing agency.


The new team members succeeded first in capturing donors' attention, then in obtaining their donations. They bolstered direct mail with pictures and more compelling text, turned the charity's newsletter into a fundraiser with a business reply envelope and converted the documentary style of the television appeal into a more aggressive marketing approach.


Leaving acquisition to television appeals and benefits featuring Christian entertainers, the nonprofit focused direct mail on the cultivation of current and major donors. As a result, direct mail now has a response rate of 5.6 percent, with an average gift of $58. The average gift of major donors is $637.


The newsletter, traditionally used to enhance donor relations, has been turned into a fundraising piece. It has a response rate of 4.39 percent and an average donation of $44.


Television appeals to potential donors bring an average gift of $140.


The twice-yearly telemarketing campaign to lapsed donors brought back 2,600 people whose average gift was $35 last year.


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