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Fundraising bounty hunters should chase the Millennium Falcon

This news post is over 8 years old

​Star Wars analogy enlightens Institute of Fundraising conference

Successful direct mail is like the Millennium Falcon of fundraising, it looks cheap and ugly but gets results.

Adrian Salmon, head of alumni fundraising at the University of Leeds, told delegates at the Institute of Fundraising Scotland conference that the university increased income by 700% by creating a cheaper looking direct mail pack.

"For seven years we'd been sabotaging ourselves," he said after redesigning the university's beautifully on-brand mailing.

Salmon's key message was that direct mail should focus on the donor and turn them into the hero.

We started talking about what people were interested in and not what we were interested in

In a Star Wars themed presentation, Salmon explained that charities can learn lots for Princess Leia's famous words: "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, your my only hope."

Contrary to contemporary digital communications techniques, direct mail should be long form, in bold, large and ugly fonts, contain lots of direct appeals, be over emotional and look like the organisation is desperate for funds.

As responses come mostly from over 50s, sending direct mail to younger donors is also a waste of money.

"Direct mail was less than 10% of our income in the 10 years before and since 2012 has increased to between 40 to 50%. The difference is that we started talking about what people were interested in and not what we were interested in," concluded Salmon.



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Adrian Salmon
over 8 years ago
Thanks so much for the write-up Susan, and I hope you enjoyed the talk! Your report is mostly spot on but I have just a couple of things to clarify - points of nuance, but I wouldn't want people to get the wrong impression I'm not head of alumni fundraising at Leeds - that honour belongs to my wonderful Director of Development Michelle Calvert, a really brilliant fundraiser.And although direct mail should be long form, it's not quite accurate to say it should seek ugliness as a point of principle. It's more that it should absolutely prioritise readability over everything, and not look as if it has been too expensively produced. It should always aim to feel personal rather than corporate.Yes, it should unashamedly ask for money, and tell an emotional and compelling story, but it shouldn't be 'over emotional'. Just persuasively emotional.And it's not quite right to say that the organisation should appear 'desperate for funds'. Of course if it is truly a crisis appeal, then that should be very clear - but otherwise it should aim to demonstrate a compelling, urgent need for a donor's gift, but stop shy of desperation. You want to convey a truthful need for support (otherwise why are you fundraising?) but you don't want to cry wolf.Hope that makes sense and hope you enjoy the rest of the conference