City Harvest Brown Bags Its Appeal

A better-than-expected response rate from a membership appeal has convinced emergency food program City Harvest to test a brown-bag mail piece for a donor acquisition drive.

The piece, a standard brown paper lunch bag folded to postcard size with a letter printed on one side and a reply card inside, generated an 8 percent response rate for a 14,000-piece campaign by City Harvest, New York. That rate exceeded projections by 3 percent and led to an average gift of $52.57 for the organization’s first-ever May appeal.

The brown bag is being used for a 50,000-piece test mailing that dropped last month to prospective donors. Amy Leveen, who runs the nonprofit consulting firm Amy Leveen Associates, Bronx, NY, came up with the brown-bag concept after seeing a sample from a hospital fundraising drive.

“I told [City Harvest], ‘This is tailor-made for you,’ ” Leveen said. “In direct marketing, you are always looking for ways to get the donor to open the envelope. This is the most dramatically different approach [City Harvest] has tried. It’s hard to find those things.”

Since it denotes a meal, the brown bag is a perfect match for an organization devoted to distributing meals to the hungry of New York City. City Harvest collects prepared food, fresh produce, canned and packaged goods from restaurants, caterers, grocers, bakeries and individuals and disperses it to those in need.

The first mailing was done without a test because it would have increased costs too much. Leveen, however, was confident that the concept would work.

“We just took the plunge and it’s done great,” she said.

Fall is a good time of the year for prospecting, and Leveen expects the current campaign to achieve similar success. The universe for the donor drive was built by renting fundraising and nonprofit lists that have worked in the past and exchanging donor lists with other charities.

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