Economic Downturn Doesn't Slow Toys for Tots

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The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation's direct mail campaign to donors experienced a double-digit percentage increase in net dollars last year despite the recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


"Their strongest mailings for the last five years have been in late August, September, October, and they didn't slack off even with Sept. 11," said Ray Grace, president of Creative Direct Response, Crofton, MD, a nonprofit ad agency that created the campaign. "They had little choice but to go ahead. Most of their mailing campaigns were approved and being inserted at the time of Sept. 11. Donor files, I believe, primarily consist of older people who buy their gifts before November and December, and they donate before that time as well."


The campaign, which mailed 1.5 million pieces from June through November, had net revenue of $3.8 million, up $600,000 from the previous year. The response rate was 11.67 percent, and the average donation was $22.


The effort began in June with a 280,000-piece mailing. Half of the recipients received a Toys for Tots decal, and the other half got a Toys for Tots magnet. The letter with the decal drew a 10 percent response rate and $22 average donation while the piece with the magnet produced a 13 percent response and average contribution of $21.


About 25,000 members of the Northwest Airlines' AirCares program who have donated travel points received a letter in August offering 500 WorldPerks miles for a $50 donation. That appeal brought an average donation of $29.53 and a 7.5 percent response rate. A 300,000-piece mailing in August thanking recipients for previous donations produced a response rate just above 10 percent and a $21 average donation.


The foundation sent holiday-themed stamps to 340,000 people Sept. 17, producing a 12.9 percent response rate and an average donation of $21. A piece mailed around the same time the previous year had a 13.2 response.


About 350,000 pieces containing a 2002 calendar booklet went out at the end of October and produced a 13 percent response rate and a $21.50 average donation. In November, a follow-up mailing with stamps to 190,000 recipients had a 9.7 percent response and nearly a $29 average donation.


"Stamps provide a direct tie-in to Christmas gifts, and it's an inexpensive way to show they support Toys for Tots," Grace said. "The calendar booklet is very inexpensive, and it's geared toward a picture of a kid looking up to a Marine, setting the tone of what we try to get across. This is a very strong program with a lot of name recognition. The Marines have the best-looking uniform, and Toys for Tots says it all in three words. This appeal is basic. You don't even have to read the copy."


The foundation also increased acquisition mailings 33 percent last year to 6.25 million. The response rate was 2.01 percent, down from 2.35 percent in 2000, and the average donation remained $18. Last year's gross was $2.25 million, up from just under $1.9 million in the previous year.


"Our unwritten rule is if you're making money in acquisition, you haven't mailed enough," Grace said. "We're hoping for another increase this year."


The first acquisition piece in June went to 300,000 names pulled from 30 to 40 lists that included veterans and religious appeal as well as 24-month donor files. It included a calendar booklet and produced a 1.9 percent response rate with an $18 average donation.


The second mailing, offering the stamp booklet, went in July and August to 1.6 million recipients from dozens of lists. It produced a 2.07 percent response rate and a $15.70 average donation. The envelope of both pieces carried the words: "It's not just about toys ... It's about lives!"


The third piece, which contained the calendar booklet, went in early September with a circulation of 1.4 million, producing a 2.25 percent response and a $16 average donation.


"When there is a crisis, people turn to the TV and forget about direct mail, but I didn't see it this year with this campaign," Grace said.


The fourth piece, with the stamp booklet, went to 3 million names in October and November, producing a 1.95 percent response and average donation of $19.


The donor and acquisition campaigns combined cost about $2.4 million while the gross amount raised exceeded $6 million. Of the $2.4 million, about one-third went to postage. List rentals averaged about $75 per 1,000 names, totaling about $400,000. The rest of the more than 6 million acquisition names came from exchanged donor lists.


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