National Coalition for the Homeless Debuts First E-Mail

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The National Coalition for the Homeless has sent its first e-mail campaign for recruiting members and donors.


Using a donated list, the NCH will drop e-mails to 100,000 subscribers from the database of San Diego-based BetterGolf.net, which claims to be "the world's largest online golf publication." Compelling images accompany copy on helping homeless people and children overcome harsh conditions.


"The hope was to appeal to emotions of sympathy and other things in order to get these people to hopefully donate or become members," said Kim M. MacPherson, CEO of Inbox Interactive Inc., a Bethesda, MD, e-mail marketing agency.


As a grass-roots network, the Washington, DC-based NCH's objective is to end homelessness. It focuses on civil rights, and housing, economic and health justice. To do that, it uses public education, policy advocacy, partnerships and technical assistance.


MacPherson, who recently authored "Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing That Works," said NCH's marketing outreach so far has been limited to direct mail or telephone.


"Really, their funds are very limited," she said. "They basically use their funds for their own internal efforts."


A test that would normally have cost $10,000 for the list rental and $3,800 for Inbox Interactive's services, this pro bono e-mail effort has the usual problem-solution tone of fundraising appeals.


"Dear friend," the e-mail reads, "If you're reading this e-mail, it probably means you have a computer. And the comfort and security of a home. But what if you didn't?"


The e-mail asks the reader to envision how hard it would be for a homeless person to hold a job, stay nourished and healthy, get an education or do any of the things that most people take for granted.


"That is the terrible reality facing more than 3.5 million people who will experience homelessness this year ... 1.35 million of whom are children," the copy reads.


Recipients are urged to join the organization. Memberships range from $15 for low-income earners or students to $50 for contributors and $500 for benefactor status.


"I think our challenge is reaching people who are the general, mainstream Americans," said Liliana Debarbieri, development coordinator at NCH.


Though the appeal is via the Internet, NCH does not have the money to enable its site to accept donations, so donors have to use traditional response methods.


"The call to action is to actually print out that form, fill it out and either fax it or send it with your check," MacPherson said. "Fax it with a credit card, send it with a check or credit card."


The form is available on a special landing page at nationalhomeless.org that was created by Inbox Interactive.


But there is an element of uncertainty involved with this push. The names on the BetterGolf.net are not proven donors.


"Granted they're not people who necessarily expressed an interest, that's the only thing that's missing here, in that there are no fundraisers or donors," MacPherson said. "There might be some in there, we just don't know.


"But volume was key," she said. "So we had to find a list vendor that would be willing to donate a good portion of their list."


MetaResponse Group, a Palm City, FL, list broker that often works with Inbox Interactive, was responsible for finding a willing list vendor in BetterGolf.net.


The untested nature of this list for a donor mailing makes guessing the response a roll of the dice.


"I think we'll wait to see how successful this is," Debarbieri said. "Right now, direct mail and telemarketing are primarily effective methods of appeals, and we [also] have funding that comes from a variety of sources, including foundations support and corporations."


Based on their e-mail marketing work for clients, executives at Inbox Interactive are hopeful that the NCH appeal will resonate.


"It would be great to get 2 [percent] to 5 percent of those 100,000 to donate something, but I've no idea if we'll get that," MacPherson said.


"Basically, they took 100,000 [names] off their file," she said. "It's all golf-interest people. And they claim they tend to be more affluent than the typical online person because it's an expensive sport ... hopefully they have some money for a good cause," she said.


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