Vulcan Park Mailer Gets Cool Reception

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A Birmingham, AL, park foundation changed its approach for the second part of a membership acquisition campaign after seeing disappointing results in the first mailing.


The first mailing for the Vulcan Park Foundation brought $27,000, but its overall expense reached $49,000. The second mailing begins dropping this week.


"We looked at different lists for the follow-up mailing," said Erica Waasdorp, vice president of fundraising at DMW Worldwide, Plymouth, MA, the agency that conceived and executed the campaign. "We will use two compiled lists with different geographical coverage. We will target counties closer to Birmingham compared with what we did originally, when we targeted counties around the city and a little bit further from the city."


Vulcan Park is built around Vulcan, a 100-year-old, 56-foot-high statue in the center of the park that took four years to restore and was Birmingham's contribution to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.


The foundation dropped two pieces in March: a basic membership mailing to 49,438 people soliciting membership at five levels from $20 to $150; and the other to 10,592 recipients to draw Centennial Members at $250. A version of the basic membership package also went to 3,062 people who had donated to the capital campaign that raised money to build the park.


Only the basic package will be used in this week's 40,000-piece mailing.


The goal for the March mailing included 50 Centennial donors totaling $12,500 and 450 basic members at an average level of $40. Through the end of May, only $4,925 had been raised from 24 responses in the Centennial segment, while the basic membership effort drew 242 donations and $11,140. However, the capital campaign goal of 200 was surpassed, as 208 donations came in totaling $10,890 and an average contribution of $52.


Per-piece expenses were $1.70 for the Centennial effort and 59 cents to reach the larger segment as well as the targeted capital campaign donors.


"On the Centennial part of the campaign, we were going after a new prospect that has never heard of the organization, and we were asking for a big gift," Waasdorp said. "We now know that we should have targeted the area closer to Birmingham."


The Centennial target audience included a compiled list from Experian that had 6,386 upper-middle to upper-income people. Other list sources included National Geographic Society members, Nature Conservancy members and Smithsonian magazine readers. The larger segment of 50,000 also featured names from Experian (25,900) with others coming from Smithsonian magazine, National Geographic, Nature Conservancy and elsewhere.


"Going after a high gift from prospects should be discouraged," Waasdorp said. "We tested a couple of different lists, and we now know which ones to go back to on a rollout. This was a test right out of the gate. The Experian names didn't come through for us. We are going with more targeted lists."


The Centennial piece contained an insert featuring an illustration of "The New Vulcan Park" that opened to reveal membership benefits, testimonials featuring memories of the Vulcan statue and information about the statue. Also mentioned was that Centennial members would have their names inscribed on a plaque to be displayed in the Vulcan Center.


"The outer envelope and the elements that were included used a heavier stock and a cream color that was designed to appeal to a higher demographic that could belong to a special group," Waasdorp said. "The plaque inscription is a special recognition that was meant to be an emotional appeal. You don't want to say Centennial membership is the only option. You want to make the effort to have them become a member eventually while not immediately sacrificing any potential donation from this group."


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