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Why direct mail?

Now comes the big decision for you and your current crop of fund-raisers: Have you any idea of how you are going to proceed with your annual drive?


An auction? A special fund-raising dinner? A series of car washes?

For the amount of money we'd need, we decided to take the direct mail route. We'd allow a certain sum of money for dues and then recruit a small army of good, solid names, and elegant addresses.

In short, a perfect "target" list. We started with our list of season ticket holders, and then added our former basketball letter winners and all the other names recommended by our board members--the kind of people who enjoyed sports, and particularly the Northwestern University brand.

That of course included everyone who owned a basketball camp. We'd send each of them a strong, individually typed sales letter with an envelope that matched.

Included with each mailing were a plea for the $100 membership fee and the gift of an attractive golf shirt with a "Northwestern U. Basketball" logo over the left breast.

We also indicated in our letter that nobody was confined to just $100. We'd be happy to accept $200, $300, or even $500. In fact, the law allows all kinds of interesting terms like deductible items, matching funds, etc.

It allows you to have a field day. Take your time with your original letter to those on your mailing list. Write it up carefully, critique it carefully, and make changes you feel necessary. Put yourself in the place of the person(s) receiving that letter--would it induce you to action? It is a sales-inducing letter. Would it excite you to get out your checkbook, fill out the simple application form, and send it back quickly?

Remember if you are offering a shirt or something that you "size information"--list this on your membership application (indicate sizes available: both male and female) and have the applicant fill in complete information. Target to the exact audience, have an attractive offer, get them excited and sell, sell, sell!

Now, if you have produced such a quality mailing list and you don't get an exceptional response, you might want to try this next option. At your next board meeting, mention to all in attendance that have not heard from the following people and name them specifically. Perhaps one or two board members know this person. Ask one of them to contact either by phone or personal letter, or both and send a follow-up letter after 20 or 25 days to all who fail to respond stating that you're hoping to hear from them, want them to join, need their membership and that they'll be glad they joined because of all of the benefits that will be helping the program.

Now, to backtrack to direct mail. Much has been written about this form of obtaining funds. Books upon books are in our libraries and bookstores. It is a good idea to visit both of these sources for further background material if you feel the need.

Some people say that direct mail is a waste of money, but approximately 45% of all delivered mail in the U.S. is direct mail. Also, how about all those catalogs you and I receive daily. Why? It must be working. Catalog sales have improved yearly percentage--and dollar-wise, as well as the number of mail-order companies. It must work.

Now with a school, church, team, or band, as you, the coach/sponsor/director, have immediate "name recognition" easier to get that foot in the door. A letter from the coach or mail from the local school or church is generally opened, and carefully read.

There are a lot of "basics" needed for direct mail success, but Nos.1, 2, and 3 offer an accurate and up-to-date list of targeted people who will be asked by letter to contribute/join.

Next, you have to get the right information to the right people with a selling message and a plan to open up their checkbook. Since so many on our list were from out of town, the up-to-date news about the team/program, by way of the newsletter, was a big selling point.

My personal direct mail guru is Dan Kennedy of Phoenix, AZ. Dan is one of the best, if not the best, in marketing and direct mail, in particular. He has newsletters, audio I tapes, books, seminars, workshops, and whatever it takes to get the job done. He has done it all.

With the advent and popularity of e-mail, more new ideas are coming to the public each day. That's why in each of your board meetings you can take an extra five minutes to discuss new ideas and technologies, to keep fresh ideas coming. It's a great way to conclude your meeting.

The computer provides a way to produce less expensive and more individually printed letters, flyers, forms, and newsletters to capture and keep the attention of your recipients.

Getting attention by way of unusual and individually typed envelopes is a good starter--perhaps a larger envelope than the usual #10 envelope. Include a creative message on the outside, as a "teaser" to get the envelope opened and check out the content.

The sales letter/sales pitch needs to be carefully written. Again, key words/buzz words and phrases to get attention and get action are needed. Take your time; have several people critique it and offer suggestions. Keep your message clear and carefully outline the benefits to the potential contributor. If it is or can be a tax write-off, non-profit organization, emphasize this in your letter and also on the form they are filling out.

One of the features of direct mail, for me, personally, has been that I can help a team or program just by sending a check. It's easy, and it makes you feel good that you're a contributor and helping the program.

The sales letter is most important. You want to stir the recipient to act as soon as possible, if not sooner. That first paragraph should express the need and how the recipient can help be a part of something good. Handwritten notes on the margins and a personal "thank you" from you are a bonus.

Recently, I've taken notice of the yellow self-stick notes applied to sales letters and magazines. These not only attract attention, but also individualize each letter or magazine page with a short handwritten comment on it.

If you have a highly visible person(s) on the board, or people who just joined, list them to get more attention and credibility. Actually, the listing of names and/or responsibilities of each printed on the side of your special letterhead will add to the impact and bring more notice and recognition to your board.

Your selling points should emphasize how each new member will help your program; the players, the team, coaches, etc. Don't under-estimate the impact of your newsletter. Every fan loves and craves inside information and that's what your newsletter can provide.

E-mail continues to have a rapid rise in anything dealing with communications. The opportunities here for your booster club or team is probably unlimited. You might turn one of your student interns/assistants loose on ideas that could create a better response and/or continued response through the use of the Internet. The more good news and up-to-date info going to your membership, the better it is for your program.

Perhaps you, or someone you know is familiar with creating Web sites. Upcoming activities, latest news, etc, could be posted here for members to refer to. It's possible to maintain a Web site at no cost, and is worth looking into.

With the airline mileage programs becoming more available, you might want to check out the possibility of your new subscribers or members of your team/organization/club paying their annual dues by credit card--or possibly working out an arrangement for just airline miles. The same arrangement could work for your sale of any other logoed items that you may have available.

So much more can be written about the benefits of direct mail, but this is a good "starter kit" for you. Take these ideas and more from the library or the bookstores and pull it all together and make it applicable to your situation.

What if no, or very limited, response comes from your first letter? First, check your original letter. Is it your best effort? Is it clear? Are their benefits interesting enough to get a response? If so, try again, and possibly again. Three tries will give you a better chance for success.

What kind of results can you expect, particularly from your first letter? You read all kinds of estimates ranging from 1% to 12%. We did not "test" our results from our Fast Break Club, but we should have--to get an accurate "read" on our costs vs. the results. We had a very high percentage because of our targeted first list of potential 'joiners" for our club. We put together a great list of interested people, and they came through for us. We also constantly looked for ways to expand and build upon our membership because from year to year, you will have some dropouts or "Every Member Get A New Member" campaigns.

Shoot high, be optimistic, embrace and celebrate each new member, but be realistic. Cautiously optimistic would be the best projection. But stay with it, it's a "work in progress" and it can keep building and getting bigger and better.

Bill Foster coached basketball for 39 years, including head coaching positions at Rutgers, Utah, Duke, South Carolina, and Northwestern. He guided Duke to the 1978 Final Four, where the Blue Devils lost to Kentucky in the championship game. For more information or to purchase Coach Foster's books, visit

By Bill Foster, Former College Basketball Coach, Galveston, TX. Excerpted from "How to Earn Dollars for Your Team/Organization/Club By Direct Mail," with permission from BF Sports Publishing.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Scholastic, Inc.
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Title Annotation:FUND-RAISING
Author:Foster, Bill
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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