Whitman-Walker Localizes AIDS Funds Acquisition Mailing

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The Whitman-Walker Clinic, Washington, DC, after struggling to raise healthcare and social services funds for people living with AIDS amid new pharmaceutical developments, has localized its direct mail program - and based on successful test results, it will drop its largest-ever acquisition mailing next week.

"Recently, there has been the perception among people that the AIDS epidemic is over and that there is no perceived problem," said Peter Carter, account executive at Malchow, Adams & Hussey, Washington, DC, the agency working with Whitman-Walker on its direct mail program. "In the early days, the money really generated itself. But now it's not on the top of people's minds so much."

The revamped mail piece, which looks as if it has come from someone on the recipient's neighborhood block, will drop to more than 100,000 households in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC, areas.

"This is a more personal appeal," said Michael Cover, director of communications at Whitman-Walker. "The results show that people are more prone to donate if they think they are getting a letter from a neighbor of theirs."

Inside the plain white envelope is a letter signed by a local volunteer outlining why he is involved with Whitman-Walker. It explains why the recipient should join him in the effort and donate to the organization. A reply document and a return envelope has the message "Please RSVP" and looks like it is signed by the volunteer. The return address also is the actual office of Whitman-Walker instead of a post office box or another location.

The surprising part of the revamped mail piece's success, however, is that the mailing, unlike previous mailings, is an ADVO product: The outside envelopes are not personalized but are addressed only to "current resident" or "resident." Carter said the clinic may use this new format in its renewal mailings as well.

According to Carter, the response rate from the test was double the response rate the organization received with its old piece, even though the average gift rate stayed the same. During the year, Whitman-Walker normally drops five prospect mailings; and now with the success of the new piece, it will add three mailings specifically with the new ADVO piece.

Whitman-Walker has an active donor base of 35,000 donors. The three prospect test mailings it conducted this year with the new piece brought in 1,300 new donors.

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