Helen Keller Services Makes Good Letters Work With Good Lists

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In its first appeal of the year, Helen Keller Services for the Blind recently used a newly acquired list of 22,000 names of people in the nonprofit's own back yard, Brooklyn, NY, to augment its house file of 56,000.


Development associate Bob Kivelson said the list was bought for one-time use. Because Brooklyn is the nonprofit's primary fundraising area, he thinks one mailing will be sufficient to know if he made the right decision.


"We traditionally mail to ZIP codes where we have a presence and there is a likelihood of return, which is in the more affluent areas," Kivelson said.


He added that ZIP codes in Brooklyn do best, but those in Nassau County also perform very well. The new list was segmented by income and targets higher-income households, Kivelson said.


Kivelson is hoping the list will perform well and deliver new names to his house file.


"A response rate over 1 percent would be terrific," he said. The typical response rate for the entire quarterly mailing is 7 percent, and sometimes as high as 8 or 9 percent.


"The health of the mailing list is a constant concern. We're always adding and deleting names and looking for ways to make it work better. It changes like a kaleidoscope. But the list has to work with the appeal. The best list won't work with a lousy letter," Kivelson said.


The latest appeal, mailed last month, begins "Helen Keller would be pleased…" and features a working mother who is visually handicapped but self-sufficient, thanks to training and rehabilitation she received from the nonprofit organization.


The story was originally featured in the nonprofit's annual report. Fundraisers thought it was so compelling that they asked for permission to adapt the profile for fundraising, according to Kivelson.


The letter includes a tear-off reply form and return envelope. The reply form has an asking stream of $10, $25, $100, $250 and "other." It also has checkoff boxes for donors interested in including Helen Keller Services for the Blind in their wills, making a gift that will generate lifetime income for the donor, and having their employers make a matching gift.


Helen Keller Services for the Blind, called the Industrial Home for the Blind until the 1970s, has a $5 to $6 million yearly budget and serves 1,000 to 2,000 people a year in the five boroughs of New York City and Long Island.


The nonprofit develops a new letter four times a year and sends it to 75,000 to 90,000 prospects and existing donors. Letters may feature an individual or any of a dozen programs.


Kivelson would not say how much the mailings cost, but indicated that they were relatively inexpensive. The pieces are created inhouse, and mailing is outsourced.


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