Inspired by a Rudyard Kipling poem, Dan Geaves shares his expertise on what is required to take your direct marketing to the next level without losing touch with the basics.

Inspired by a Rudyard Kipling poem, Dan Geaves shares his expertise on what is required to take your direct marketing to the next level without losing touch with the basics.


direct marketingThe Rudyard Kipling poem If was written in 1895. It been quoted in films such as Apocalypse Now and Mission Impossible. A few of its lines If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/and treat those two impostors just the same appear on the players’ entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.

One of the final lines is [if you can] walk with Kings nor lose the common touch. It’s a sentiment worth applying to life and direct mail programs. Here are a few of the common touches that are worth holding on to:

1 Fundraising thermometers

The classic way to show a parish whether the funds for a new roof had been raised was to place a massive thermometer on the church and paint on the amount collected as the mercury level.  It is a staple on most community fundraising website pages, and yet it is rarely used in direct mail.

In community fundraising the thermometer scale can be adjusted dynamically as the level rises. You can help your first audience to feel like they are contributing to success, and then show the rest of your audience that there is a way to go. In direct mail – you get “one shot” at sharing a target.

Asylum Seekers Centre’s Christmas appeal not only employed a screwdriver-shaped thermometer in its appeal to help with renovations and refurbishments, it also showed that individual supporters could help with the final 50%.

2 Dollar handles

Successful fundraising involves making the role of a supporter very clear. A great way to help with that is to illustrate how money is translated into the features and benefits of your work. The phrase ‘dollar handle’ is used to describe an illustration of what a specific amount of money will go towards.

Dollar handles form the basis of many ‘virtual gift’ products such as Oxfam Unwrapped or The Smith Family Joyspreader.

Camp Quality’s end of financial year appeal shows how every $55 supporters donate will give more children and their families an hour with a Child Life Therapist. The appeal illustrates the many ways that Kylie (a child life therapist) uses that hour to deliver incredible impact – from distraction therapy and time-out for stressed parents, to specific coping strategies that help preschoolers to cope with difficult cancer treatment regimes.

When dollar handles such as these are then applied to ask algorithms they become even more powerful and justify a charity’s attempt to uplift the value of an individual supporter’s gift.

3 Sending a message

When supporters participate in market research, many of them reveal that they use donating as a way of changing circumstances, and as a way of letting the victims of circumstance know that they are not alone, or that society does actually care about their plight. When you consider this insight, it is not surprising that fundraisers often find that when they invite supporters to actually send a message with their donation – the income raised rises.

Sending a message of support is a wonderful way to humanise the feeling of an appeal – so that transactions become acts of compassion. They also prove to supporters that beneficiary stories are genuinely real.

Jesuit Mission’s recent appeals have executed this in two ways – firstly using a section on a donation form, and then in the next appeal using a specific decorative item that will be displayed in one of their program centres.

4 Sticky case studies

Case studies of beneficiaries help supporters to understand whom they are gunning for. Fundraising stories reveal to supporters the conflict that a charity is helping their beneficiaries to overcome. They share details that are so specific they reveal how real the situation is. They reflect on experiences that the supporter will recognise, find familiar and be able to empathise with.

Stories such as those don’t just land on fundraisers’ desks – they need to be found. Building the rapport needed to help someone open up is not for the fainthearted. It requires a fundraiser (or their hired help) to open up too. Preparing questions helps to ensure that meetings and interviews with beneficiaries or caseworkers are purposeful and not left to chance. Preparation requires time and it should not be rushed. Here are a few of the details that make up a great case study:

  • How does the person’s story relate to the work that the charity does?
  • How did the work of your charity impact on their life and life of those around them? How could their life have turned out differently if the charity did not exist?
  • Can the events described be related to specific dates, or times, so that they can be told in chronological order (just as lives unfold)?

A direct mail appeal should be supported with digital channels, and video content can be really helpful for ensuring mail pack recipients engage with emails. But gaining permission and access to be able to film stories is often a bigger barrier than budget.

Remember the further away a fundraising team drifts (or is pushed) from the impact of a charity the harder it is to “walk with Kings” while holding onto the common touch.

Dan Geaves

Dan has worked in direct marketing for 20 years. He is a partner at Marlin – a company of 14 creative professionals proudly helping charities such as The Smith Family, Asylum Seekers Centre, Camp Quality and Jesuit Mission to prepare direct and digital appeals.

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