Lifts in mail packs – who needs them?
By Dearne Cameron, CEO
Last month a fundraising manager asked me this question: “What’s the point of including a lift in our direct mail packs?”
His question was in response to a board member’s concern that lifts are the costliest part of the pack. And, in many cases, demand the most creative time and discussion. But do they really make a difference?
At a time when production and postage costs weigh heavily on all of our direct mail programs, it’s a relevant question.
And I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned, having had the privilege of working with so many different charities on a wide variety of fundraising appeals.
Test after test prove lifts uplift response
As a little background, a ‘lift’ in a fundraising mail pack is any piece, on top of the letter, that helps you to engage and inspire your donors. A hard-working lift should ‘lift’ your donor’s emotional response and their desire to donate.
Yes, it will increase your pack costs, but an effective lift will also increase your response. Fundraisers everywhere, over decades, have tested the efficacy of this equation by testing a pack with one or multiple lifts, against a pack without.
Lifts work because no matter how compelling your appeal letter is, research shows us that donors do not read it from start to finish.
They start at the top and then flick to the bottom looking for the signatory. And more than 90% read a PS before they read the body copy of the letter. And they focus on pictures and headlines, never on body copy.
That’s where the real power of the lift is. It works to maintain interest – using photography, colour and a different format to the letter. It’s the combination of the written story and visual images that emotionally engage the donor so that they make that donation.
The top 4 reasons to use lifts in your fundraising appeal:
1. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Decades of research has shown that photographs are a known component of a successful fundraising appeal.
Why? Two-thirds of the stimuli that reaches the brain is visual and one half of our brain is dedicated to managing visual stimuli.
2. Lifts help you tell your story in a different way: When it comes to inspiring people to donate, the letter copy is the most important.
But a lift can enhance the words of the primary letter by bringing the written story to life through design and images – which is critical in today’s highly visual culture.
3. Lifts make people read your appeal: they add textures and visual appeal to your pack to gain the readers interest. An effective lift will help donors return to the letter to find out more.
4. Lifts often get looked at first because they contain compelling images and copy that capture attention and bring them into your story.
But critical to a lift’s success is this:
– No matter what its format, every lift must be realistic and authentic. Lifts deserve a designer’s attention and imagination as they are a way you can get to the emotional heart of your story in a visually appealing way.
– Every lift should be treated as a vital piece of a greater whole. Each piece must support your fundraising proposition and complement all other pieces.
The top 3 reasons why a lift won’t work in your fundraising appeal
1- When your lift is a continuation of the primary letter. Then it becomes just another irritating enclosure. A successful lift is usually written from a different perspective than your appeal letter, adding richness and depth to your story.
2- When it’s all about clever design and copy. Don’t focus on style over substance. The most important thing is to stay true to the story and why your donor’s gift is so important.
And make it easy for skimmers, flippers and browsers to find what they want.
3- When it doesn’t support the fundraising proposition clearly. A good lift helps make the case for support stronger and generates even more emotional engagement.
How to make lifts count
Minimising what it costs to produce your direct mail packs is important. But you need to invest wisely in order to generate the best return.
As with every other aspect of fundraising activity, the key to getting value out of your lifts is constant testing.
Your assumptions (and those of well-meaning board members, volunteers, and even donors) can often be wrong, so it’s important to let data drive your strategy.
Lifts are one of the things that are worth testing – i.e. the number of lift pieces in your pack, whether to include a bounce back device etc.
It’s important not to take anyone’s word on anything and to test, as much as budgets and volumes will allow, so that you can learn what works for your charity and your audiences.
But what’s most important in all of this?
We know that the majority of your income in appeals will come from a minority of your donors. The Pareto Principle. So, you need to make sure you give priority treatment to your best donors and prospects.
And Pareto’s extensive experience and data analysis shows that generally speaking, bigger packs with more stuff in them work.
So don’t waste time going back and forwards on copy, debating how many lifts to put in, how many emails to send … it’s best to work instead on where your time will have the biggest impact.
Separate the assumptions and opinions (even though they may be well-meaning) from the decisions that will truly drive donations.
Unfortunately, the stuff that has the biggest impact is not the most exciting – getting the offer, ask amounts and data right.