Hard Copy Works

Hard Copy Works

Prison Radio Mailings

Hard copy works: My own very blurry photo of the hard-copy mailings this post is about, from Prison Radio.

Why and How Hard Copy Works

We often get questions about whether hard-copy mailings are still worth it. And the short answer is, yes, definitely.

The photograph above was taken at RAISING CLARITY’s nerve center. At top, you see the inspiration for this post. These are the package contents–most of them–I received after making an excruciatingly small gift to Prison Radio. The postcard in the foreground was a different hard-copy mailing I’ll talk about in a minute.

I found out about Prison Radio while listening to the publicized broadcast of imprisoned journalist, activist, thinker Mumia Abu-Jamal aired initially as Goddard College’s Fall 2014 commencement address. I was alerted to the broadcast by a professor at Goddard who is a soul-colleague connected locally with one of our oldest intentional communities, Heathcote, who turn 50 this year. (Prison Radio is the very small–one fulltime staffer–nonprofit that produced the broadcast.)

By the way, that broadcast was enough to change the law in Pennsylvania! If you want to read more about Prison Radio’s response, click here.

This post is about why I still think hard-copy mailings are a good thing.

Step by Step Through An Excellent Fundraising Mail Package

First, look at how Prison Radio responded to my excruciatingly small gift. See all that stuff up at the top of the picture? They did not just write me to say “thank you,” although that would have been way cheaper. They used the opportunity of my noticing them with a random first-time gift to make an impression when they thanked me.

Here’s What I Loved

It was a beautiful impression. I set the whole package aside to write this post months ago. It included

    • an elegant but simple thank-you card, pre-printed but for my first name and amount and date of my gift and personal signature, with a powerful color image of a Berlin mural featuring Mumia on the front (this is a card they could sell)
    • a postcard addressed to Mumia–for me to write to him!
    • a transcript of a column Mumia wrote–for me to read his own words, not just theirs on his behalf
    • a newsletter designed as a personal letter from the director on her letterhead, many black and white photos, providing me a lot of new first impressions:
      • there are a lot of people involved in this struggle
      • this organization is generous, creative, but also thrifty with money because most of these pieces are in black and white (easily reproduced) but well-laid out and give me tons of information easily and attractively
      • these people spellcheck
      • this organization is diverse in a number of ways, and so is its Board (photos)
      • they have other donors besides me! (photos with a funder’s banner in it + photo of a longstanding donor, new member of their “Legacy Circle”): success attracts success
      • these people smile genuine smiles (even though their issue is dire)
      • these people are successful sometimes (one supershort story is of a political prisoner being released, Lynne Stewart)
      • these people want more of my dollars (they mention having enclosed a donations envelope) AND they show me exactly what they do with it–length, breadth and depth
      • these people are risk-takers: they spent more money on me than I spent on them!

Make Sure You Don’t Do This

Notice that last one. Hard-copy mailings can BACKFIRE if you aren’t careful.

Most of the time, I receive a simple hard-copy thank-you in an envelope in response to appeals that arrived hard-copy and I responded to in hard-copy (with a check). All totally appropriate.

What Does Not Work

Occasionally, however, I receive prospecting appeals (from organizations who are complete strangers) containing many parts and pieces that include elaborate, gift-like vanity items such as stickers, labels, membership cards. Ugh. These folks are pre-spending my gift reaching out to me with an approach that goes completely against my grain of not wasting resources and elegant simplicity. (They can’t know this of course but I can at least blog about it.)

    • It is inappropriate to lavish attention on a stranger. It’s the luxury edition of fundraising, which for RAISING CLARITY is an oxymoron. Fundraising is not what we want you spending your luxury on! (It should be affordable enough you can do a lot of it.)
    • It can be appropriate to lavish swag on a returning donor!¬† This is luxury not in the service of fundraising, but of grassroots organizing, of donor cultivation and relationship-building. I enjoy it when an organization I already love sends me their swag. I pass it on or use it.
    • It is perfectly appropriate but RISKY to lavish attention on a first-time donor. This is because¬† it takes a LOT more energy to attract a gift from a donor the first time than it does to build a relationship with them.
      • And: none of the pieces Prison Radio sent were flattering to my vanity; they ALL assumed I want to be involved in their struggle. This is the risky part, not just the expense of it.

Is it Confusing? How Would You Know?

So when I got the postcard you see toward the bottom of my very amateurish photograph and couldn’t understand it, I was surprised. Because I was already used to being treated like family, I responded like family. I was clueless and thought this was of some concern, so I emailed the director, to offer her the fruits of my great wisdom on her postcard. (I thought, well, she may think I’m rude but I have to share. You know me.)

She called me. And I ended up donating time, which has been lavishly (personally) appreciated.

Beloveds, I am just saying–these things do not go out of style: open and clear asking, sincerity, creativity, good writing, good editing, clean lines, simple, inexpensive but solid production, unified message, diverse ways to engage, friendliness, assumption the other person might actually say yes, to many different kinds of asks.

There was one more piece not in the photo above. It’s a poster I now have on my wall. I will spare you my photo of it. Mumia sits with me every morning in my meditation corner. Again, this is what you want, to get this lucky on the first try, but I’m here to help you learn how! Questions? Comments?

For another post reviewing a different piece in the fundraiser’s toolkit, see this one about a nonprofit’s annual report.

  • Beth Raps
    Posted at 23:21h, 21 January Reply

    Thank you to both of you, BJ and Danielle! Danielle, knowing you, I know you can do it! Also, you might see our next post, also on nonprofit topic of what to put in a single appeal–email or hard-copy. The details are intense but I bet the director of Prison Radio would be first to tell you it started out hard and got easier. She is brilliant and so are you!

  • Danielle
    Posted at 16:11h, 19 January Reply

    Wow I sometimes think that I want to be in development for an organization or start one that requires fundraising but what you are talking about is quiet impressive, but for me, intimidating.
    Imagining being the person to put together that thank you package or to be sending out those postcards feels like so many details and things that I don’t know how to do. But if you have a clear message and vision then surely it wouldn’t be hard. But I can feel the riskiness of it viscerally – it makes my heart flutter a bit.
    Thank you for sharing your insight and story with Prison Radio.

  • BJ Appelgren
    Posted at 14:18h, 19 January Reply

    Love this post. A beautiful description of a job well done.

Post A Comment