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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, John Lepp, Partner at Agents of Good, stops by to chat about how nonprofits can champion their donors through direct response and direct mail.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Hey there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for tuning in. My name is Steven, and I’m the V.P. of marketing here at Bloomerang. Today I’m joined by my friend John Lepp. He’s a partner over at Agents of Good up in Toronto, Canada, Thanks for joining us today, John.

John Lepp: Thanks, Steven. I appreciate. Thank you.

Steven: Yeah, sure. John, maybe before we begin you could tell us a little bit about all the work you’re doing over there at Agents of Good. What are you guys up to these days?

John Lepp: Sure. We’re a small firm but mighty. We work with charities and not for profits across Canada as well as a few agencies in Canada and Ireland and Australia. We’re just focusing on showing lots of love and appreciation and gratitude towards donors at every turn basically.

Steven: Showing love is good. We definitely are champions of that as well. One of the things you guys do is you help folks with their direct mail campaigns. Is that a true statement?

John Lepp: Yeah. We do direct mail. We do really everything. We do a lot of online websites’ direct mail. We’re sort of in all the channels as much as we possibly can be. It depends on the campaign and what we’re trying to do. Yeah, both my partner Jen and I, our background is in direct response as well as advertising and marketing. That’s where a lot of our base, our foundation work still is.

Certainly, direct mail is a place that there’s a whole lot of room for love and attention for donors, because I think in the last 20 years it’s become so automated and so, like, out of the box and put a new logo on it. It’s changed, whether it’s lost a lot of the thoughtfulness and the appreciation that maybe it used to have.

Steven: Yeah.

John Lepp: It looks like it’s manufactured just like everything else in this world, and that’s a big problem.

Steven: It seems like we kind of hit the digital age and maybe direct response and direct mail kind of got a bad rap, but I feel like it’s coming back a little. There are people like Tom Ahern and other communications experts who are saying hey, direct mail is still viable and actually can be really effective. Are you sensing that backswing a little bit?

John Lepp: Oh, absolutely. For all the people and all the charities who go on about looking at digital, and social media, and looking at the younger audiences, those things are important, but for most charities I know that do direct mail that’s what makes them the most money. For some reason people like to kick it while it’s down.

Steven: Yeah.

John Lepp: Part of it, too, is because I think it gets a bad rap because a lot of it is so crappy. People are like oh, who’s producing this junk. A lot of it, I’ll be frank, is junk.

Steven: Yeah.

John Lepp: My mother in law is a traditional Jane Donor of Canada. This is what I usually get from her. This is just the last month. This time of year in Canada is quiet for direct mail, and that’s how much she gets.

It’s brutal. It’s boring. It talks about how awesome this organization is and all the amazing work it’s doing. It doesn’t give any of the credit to her as a donor. It’s really frustrating, but it fuels our work and our work we do with our clients to make sure that we’re not doing that.

Steven: You talk about junk and talking about yourself and all these things. What are some more of those things that you see people doing that they shouldn’t do? What do you tell people a direct mail piece should accomplish or look like or communicate?

John Lepp: At the end of the day the donor should feel like they’re the hero. We make sure we go to great lengths to tell them really great stories about either how they helped do something or how they can help change something. We bring it back to all the things that we accomplish we do because people like you care and love us. We use really emotional language I think in a lot of our DM pieces.

I think the other thing that I see time and time again that people are forgetting is that a lot of charities seem to rely on one tool in their communications toolbox which is usually around something to make you sad. We use all of the emotions. We try to get donors angry. We try to make them laugh. We try to get them sobbing. We try to use all these different tools we have in our toolbox to get the donors involved with what we’re trying to tell them and what we’re asking them to do today.

Again, we don’t necessarily do it all in one pack. It’s an ongoing journey. Just make sure you’re hitting all the different notes along the way.

Steven: Yeah. I think striking the emotion chord is really important. How do you strike the chord of making the donor feel like a real champion of the organization? What are some tactics, maybe some words or phrases that you employ that really make the donor feel like they’re the star of the show, they’re really the one making the impact?

John Lepp: I think from the very, very get go when they get a DM piece they’re presented with a problem and they’re told how they can solve the problem. A good DM impact should only have one problem. You should be asking for one thing. If you ask for one thing, and you make it very easy for the person to take the action you’re asking them to take, these are things that I think on a subconscious level people appreciate.

It’s sort of like we talk to charities who are like no, our donors, this is too simplistic for our donors, or no, we like to be scientific because our donors are very intelligent. Those things may be true, but I think that when we use jargon, and we don’t tell good stories, or we use very long words I think that leaves people feeling, like, if you don’t get it you feel a little stupid.

We make sure we’re doing everything. We make it easy for them to take action. We give them very big coupons with lots of space for them to write in their information. We make it all easy. I think that, again, on a subconscious level makes the person feel yeah, I get this, I understand what I’m going to have to do, and I can do it very easily, and I feel rewarded for that.

Then, when they get their thank you it actually refers to how much they gave, and what happened with that money, and how it was useful. Every time you go and talk to them you want to make sure you’re referring to them about their importance and why we need them, and inspiring them to continue their action.

They’re not going to take action every single time. That’s not really the point. The point is that you take them along the journey, they feel like they’re a part of that journey, and they’re an important part whether they give $20 or $200,000.

Steven: Is there a piece that stands out in your mind that maybe you worked on or maybe you’ve received that you really thought just nailed it and was perfect? What did they do so well?

John Lepp: Oh, God. That’s a really good… No. Perfect? I think that occasionally we… Some people know us for doing these sort of surprise and delight mailings.

We did what we call a truck package for Second Harvest a couple of years ago. Basically, Second Harvest is a food rescue operation. They make sure food gets into people’s hands before it goes to waste. They needed a new truck for the organization, so we did this truck pack.

The package actually came from the truck. The truck talks about how he was sitting on this lot and he knew his lot in life was to work with Second Harvest and the donors to deliver the food to people who needed it. He made the pitch.

The donors just went crazy. There was a little illustration of the truck. He signed the letter beep-beep. It was kind of playful. You could take a set of keys and put it onto the coupon as sort of an involvement device.

The gifts went off the chart. It was really, really cool.

Again, we gave donors a really compelling reason to do something, and we made it fun. I would say to the client when was the last time you had a donor call you up laughing at something they got from you. Probably never. Even my mother in law, my poor, poor mother in law, I was like when was the last time a charity did something that made you feel cherished, special, and like you’re walking on clouds. The answer was dead silence.

Steven: Right.

John Lepp: Never. I think that charities don’t go what can we do to make this person feel remarkable, how can we do that in direct mail, how can we do that online, how can we do that with a phone call, what are the things when we send a card, and what can we do to acknowledge these people in our lives are very, very important. I think charities just want to sort of distance themselves from donors.

Steven: Right.

John Lepp: They’re these people over here. I see a lot of charities doing a lot to sort of create these walls. I don’t understand why, and I don’t understand why people have trouble using emotional language. Everyone’s so afraid of that. I think social media’s really cool this way, because it’s reduced us to being ourselves.

Steven: Right.

John Lepp: The people who are themselves are the ones that stand out the most, and the ones who are just these corporate walls just blend into the background. As charities, it’s only when you become yourself, and you have a voice, and you have an emotional range, and you tell great stories, and you actually care what the person on the other end is thinking and doing and what you’re asking them to do, then that’s when the amazing, amazing stuff happens.

We’re lucky. A lot of our charities that we do work with, most of them buy into this philosophy, and the ones that do I’m astounded at the results that we get…

Steven: Yeah.

John Lepp: It blows my mind.

Steven: I love it. I’m not surprised to hear that when they start telling those authentic stories. We’re actually recording this. It’s near the end of August. It seems like folks are probably gearing up for maybe their year end appeals, maybe their holiday appeals, and I want to get your advice before we go.

What’s one piece of advice you would have for folks who are maybe starting to plan that process or maybe they’ve got something written and they’re ready to send? What should they be thinking about? What’s the number one thing in your mind?

John Lepp: Well, again, when was the last time you made your donor the hero? Part of making them the hero, there’s a piece that we developed for our clients as part of their packs. Usually, it’s once a year at some point. It’s an opportunity to look on the things you’ve accomplished in this year and your donor was involved and they made this possible – X, Y, and Z.

Then, usually it’s sort of a look, a bit of a vision towards the coming year. Here are the things we’re going to focus on again with your help. This is totally going to be possible. The world’s going to be so much better by you helping.

That’s a piece that is a report. It’s a simple two page double sided. Donors get why they’re an important part of this thing. That’s one piece.

Year end is notoriously good for fundraising, because donors are generally feeling really good about giving. But, you still need to tell them a really good story. You still need to ask them for something and explain why you’re asking for it. These are simple things but often overlooked. Just because it’s year end, just because it’s Christmas isn’t enough. Sorry.

Steven: I agree. Well, cool. John, this is really great advice. Where can folks learn more about you? Where can they follow you on Twitter.

John Lepp: I’m on Twitter @johnjepp. That’s L-E-P-P. Also, agentsofgood.org. Those are probably the two main places you can find us. It’s an open door policy around here. In other words, if anyone has questions anytime about anything I’m usually happy to talk unless there’s a hundred thousand of you.

Steven: Hopefully, we will. We’ll send this to you.

John Lepp: Let’s see what happens.

Steven: Yeah. Do reach out to John if you have any questions about your direct mail before you hit the post office this holiday or year end season. John, thanks again.

John Lepp: Thanks.

Steven: Thanks to everyone for tuning into this episode. We will catch you next week. We’ll talk to you then. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
Kristen Hay