Mince pies not required

(but they may help....)

By Caoileann Appleby - Dec 13 2018

The Ask Direct crew sat down last week with some wine, beer and mince pies to talk about… donor recruitment.

Why, what else do you talk about at this time of year?

Christmastime is peak donor recruitment time for many charities – for some causes, it’s the only time that works. And like many of our clients’ supporters, we noticed the volume of charity mail and inserts ramping up massively in the last two months.

(And all of us in the office are far too fresh-faced to be the best target audience (ahem) so your donors are likely getting even more.)

So we decided to make the most of it. Because at Ask Direct, we never assume we know everything. We never want to stand still. There’s always room for improvement, new ideas, and new learnings.

We spread all the packs we’d received out on a table in the office kitchen for a few weeks – doordrops, direct mail, and inserts from both Irish and UK publications – and picked what caught our eye. Perhaps our choices were based on the charity, the cause, or simply because we found the envelope or front cover intriguing.

The only criterion was: it couldn’t be one of ours.

This is not any kind of scientific survey, of course: and actually, it’s not that different from how supporters choose what mail to open and what to discard. Royal Mail’s Secret Life of Mail research suggests that people keep mail in their house for 17 days and 51% keep it in… you guessed it… the kitchen.

Then, we gathered around and presented our chosen pack. Among the mince pies and festive beer, here are some trends we noticed:


  • Up the Irish: Some charities are really dialling up the ‘Irish-ness’ of their packs, using phrases you don’t need to be fluent to understand, but beyond the simple ‘Nollaig shona duit’ we’d normally see (that’s ‘Happy Christmas to you [singular]’ for our worldwide readers. Pronounced something like ‘nullig hunna ditch’). Perhaps they’ve been reading about our research? 


  • Still a lot of errors in the basics: Font sizes too small for the target audience (and even some of us!) to read, failing the ‘you-test’, and privacy and consent notices that aren’t GDPR-compliant. We recommend our clients never go smaller than 12pt font, because simply increasing the font size can boost response significantly, as we – and others – have tested.


  • Big variety of content: One charity’s appeal was simply a response form in an unsealed response envelope; another’s had almost everything including engagement devices, keepsakes for the donor, and plenty of lift items. Our bet – based on our clients’ results – is that the latter will beat the former on both response and long-term retention. The former would win on cost, of course, but short-term thinking gets only short-term results in recruitment.


There was definitely lots for us to learn from - and some excellent examples we’ll be showing our creative teams and clients in the new year for inspiration.

We found it so useful, in fact, that we’re doing it again in January: this time, with our own work (no holds barred!).

What trends have you noticed this year? How do you ensure ongoing learning in your organisation? Get in touch or join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Our commitment to learning and improving is year-round: and even though Summer School is taking a break this year, Fundraising School isn’t – and the first event in the series is the 22nd of January: click here for more details and to book!


Tagged with: ChristmasCore DonorsIrelandRecruitment

Caoileann Appleby     @Qaoileann


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