Veterans Group Gets Wartime Bump in Donations

A direct mail fundraiser from a veterans assistance group that dropped just after the U.S.-Iraq war began surpassed expectations among previous donors as well as prospects.

Help Hospitalized Veterans, Winchester, CA, which provides hand rehabilitation items for hospitalized veterans, mailed a 6.5-by-4.75-inch box that carried the message: THEY SACRIFICED FOR FREEDOM … .” A circular window let recipients view a U.S. flag-themed ribbon pin. Also inside were a two-sided pitch letter, a reply envelope and a donation slip. It mailed March 24 and generated results through August.

The mailing to previous donors went to 197,631 who had contributed to the organization in the past 18 months. The list, which has a median age of 75, generated a 19.25 percent response rate, nearly double the 10.71 percent for its campaign a year ago that went to 100,805 recipients.

This year's mailing to previous donors brought in just over $356,000, exceeding the goal of $244,000.

“Timing had a lot to do with it,” said Ray Grace, president of Creative Direct Response, Crofton, MD, the direct marketing agency that created the piece. “It hit around the start of the Iraq war, and veterans appeals have all done well during that period of time.”

Most of the responses came in April and early May.

“We couldn't say anything about the war,” he said. “It was designed in January, and the copy mentions a distinguished Vietnam veteran with two Bronze Stars.

“It was bad luck in the fact that there was a war, but we had a package designed to take advantage of it.”

The pitch letter, signed by HHV president and founder Roger Chapin, begins by mentioning a letter from a Vietnam veteran who writes about the importance of receiving a “Craft Kit.”

“Brighten their dreary days with the gift of an HHV Craft Kit!,” appears toward the end of the pitch letter. “A mere $8 — the price of a lunch — can provide a deserving veteran with a model car kit … a paint-by-number set … a birdhouse kit … or other crafts. Only $16 — the price of two movie tickets — can provide two kits. It certainly doesn't take much to do a lot of good.”

A photo of a veteran using a Craft Kit appears on the back of the box.

Several versions of the package were tested in an acquisition effort to 75,000 names taken from five lists. The lists included veterans as well as those who have responded to medical-themed charitable appeals and children's charities.

“All of them were through the roof,” Grace said. “It almost tripled [our typical response]. We normally do about 4 or 4.5 percent on acquisition, and that is what we would have expected with this. Normally we would receive an average donation in acquisition of $9.50. What this produced was 20 percent above that.”

One difference between the previous-donor and acquisition mailings was that the reply form for previous donors contained personalized donation amounts.

“For previous donors the suggested contributions are customized and built off previous contribution levels,” Grace said. “The highest previous or most recent contribution is used for the low number on the list and you work your way up. On a donor list you can do that.”

Two statements appeared on the slip, with boxes to be checked for each, along with the suggested amounts. One asks recipients to affirm that they will wear the lapel pin “to honor hospitalized and homebound veterans” while the other asks donors to visit veterans “in my area and thank them for all they have sacrificed for us.”

“It's an involvement device,” he said. “The pin is an attempt to have all Americans feel more patriotic at an important time. If you can get somebody to display the pin, you help them satisfy a need to help and make a difference.”

Per-piece cost of the campaign, including printing, production, postage, list acquisition and agency fees, was about 60 cents.

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