Planned Parenthood Broadens Reach With Updated, Issue-Oriented Control

Nonprofit fundraiser Planned Parenthood Federation of America has a new control package for donor acquisition as well as a chance to expand its prospecting reach, with help from marketing services provider Epsilon.

Epsilon, which began offering strategic consulting and database management services to nonprofit organizations about 35 years ago, started working with Planned Parenthood in March 2005. At that time, the group had a donor acquisition control package that had been in place for about 10 years, said Craig DePole, vice president and general manager at Epsilon, Wakefield, MA.

“When they hired Epsilon they were looking for a change in both the tone and the messaging used, a change in the way Planned Parenthood was talking about their issues,” DePole said.

The organization's control package was a double-window envelope with the prospect's name and address in one window and a Planned Parenthood membership card in the other. It also had a line of text that read, “Survey and petition to Congress enclosed.” Inside was a four-page letter and a reply sheet that asked prospective donors to make a contribution, sign a petition to their congressional representative about family planning and fill out a questionnaire.

Planned Parenthood also tried the same package in a 9-by-12-inch envelope called a doormat because of its size.

“The four-page insert was very heavy in text,” DePole said. “It had a lot of very interesting information in it but those interesting details were buried in a lot of text. The package had been seeing declining results in the last few years.”

One of the test packages that Epsilon created for Planned Parenthood was built around the issue known as pharmacy refusal, the practice of pharmacists declining to fill women's prescriptions for birth control based on their personal beliefs.

“There wasn't much press on the issue, and it seemed like Planned Parenthood had an opportunity to 'own' this issue,” DePole said. “We took that idea and developed a very clean, graphically compelling package with bold visuals and built a letter around it that took the donor through a first-person account of what actually happened to someone at a pharmacy counter.”

The package also contained an insert with a photo of a ball of paper and the word “imagine” on the front cover. On the inside it said, “Imagine going to your pharmacist and getting this back instead of your medicine?” and continued with details of the issue and a call to action to join Planned Parenthood in the “Fill My Pills Now” campaign.

The reply sheet asked recipients to send money and fill out three petitions to three major pharmacy chains to get them to change their policies: Wal-Mart, Target and Winn-Dixie.

Planned Parenthood mailed the first 125,000 test packages to prospects in July against the double-window control.

“The pharmacy-refusal package improved response by 45 percent, lowered average gift by only 7 percent and cut the investment per new member by half,” DePole said. “A slightly lower average gift is to be expected when you are reaching more people. When you have a really successful package, you often have a lower average gift because you attract a broader donating audience.”

After several more tests, the pharmacy-refusal package rolled out as the new control in January and mailed to 1 million prospective donors.

DePole partly credits the focus on a new, mainstream topic for the success of the package and said that the package has the potential to open markets that were unresponsive to the old control including health newsletters and some targeted health charities.

Planned Parenthood also hopes that the package changes some list owners' minds about letting the group prospect to their files.

“The abortion issue can be a lightning rod for list owners that want to play it very safe with their customers,” DePole said. “We are hoping that an issue like birth control that is so mainstream — the statistic is like 95 percent of women have used birth control at some time in their life — will open up some markets that were previously denied. One of the key components to Planned Parenthood's future success is being able to broaden their message a bit more.”

Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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