The thinking behind the £1 pack

April 1 2009 - Mark Phillips

I was happily reading a fantastic review in Third Sector on one of Bluefrog’s two recruitment packs recently mailed for Centrepoint, until I got to the end and saw that our work had been credited to another agency.

“My my,” I said, “that’s a disappointment and no mistake.”

I got in touch with Third Sector who were obviously very apologetic and they issued a correction in the following week’s edition.

The trouble is, no one seems to have seen it.

So I thought I would point it out here (job done!) and then expand a little on the thinking behind the piece in question – it’s something I call the £1 pack.

It’s been around for years. I know, because I was the person who originally came up with the idea back in the mid-1990s. I wrote the pack and Louise Cunnington designed it.

I was working at the YMCA at the time and it was an important step in my journey towards setting up Bluefrog.

I had become frustrated by what I saw as a simple fact – though research showed me that homelessness amongst young people was of huge concern, my carefully targeted cold recruitment mailings were generating response rates between 1 or 2%.

The odd tweak here and there wasn’t making a huge difference. So I decided to turn the whole idea of what gets people giving on its head.

Rather than ask why? I asked why not?

As a result, I started thinking about the barriers that got in the way of people giving. With the help of some research and a little lateral thinking, I came up with some key factors (There are many more, but these were the ones I concentrated on overcoming):

  • Risk Vs trust – the smaller the gift, the lower the financial risk involved.
  • Hassle – asking people to find a pen, write a cheque or dig out their credit card to complete payment details can delay the gift and at worse, kill it.
  • Boredom – If you can give people something new and interesting to do, they will often do it.

The central idea was a pack that gave people the chance to give a £1 coin. 

Picture 10

The response device was key to the concept. It was a thick piece of card with a coin sized hole in it. The sticky address label on the card acted as a means to hold the coin in place. The card could then be placed into the BRE and returned. It couldn’t be much easier. What’s more, people actually enjoyed putting a coin in the hole.

Along with the card was a small leaflet that illustrated what the YMCA was doing and contained the key message asking for support.

Because we used off-the-shelf envelopes, the completed pack looked and felt like it contained a 3 and a half inch floppy disk (very popular in those days for data storage and transferring files between computers – I think they held about 1.4 MB).

We mailed the pack to a combination of our banker lists along with a selection of lists of much younger possible recruits and waited to see what would happen.

I remember being knocked out by the response. Sacks and sacks of BREs were carried through the doors by sweaty postmen and we found we had received an average response rate of well over 20% (sometimes, very well over) from all sources. What was more interesting was the average gift was something like £1.60. Many people didn’t just give a single £1 coin – they sent cheques for a much higher sum instead.

Thinking back, the largest cheque we ever received in response to that pack was for £5,000.

We always knew that the £1 pack was the start of the process of donor recruitment. In effect, each gift was like a £1 coin being dropped in a collecting tin. The only difference was that we knew the contact details of the person who was doing the dropping.

We then – and this was the difficult part – developed a communication programme that engaged the new donors and pulled them towards us. It was based on giving donors what they needed. This resulted in a huge number of direct debits being generated.

Of course many of the donors didn’t want to give any more. This had to be accepted and incorporated into budgets and re-activation programmes.

Unfortunately a number of other (big and not so big) charities and agencies saw the idea and tried to use it without really appreciating that it was simply a hand-raiser. As a result, it didn’t work for them.

It won’t work if a charity does not have a good donor focussed follow up campaign (nor for some other reasons).

Even printers started hawking the idea round, offering to develop creative work and mail the pack. At this level, the concept is doomed to failure.

As a result of this hearsay, there has been needless suspicion of the concept.

When put together with a great story – and the right follow-up campaign – it can still beat pretty much any other technique on the market for recruiting large numbers of supporters. It might not generate such huge response rates as it once did, but it still does incredibly well. I know because a number of Bluefrog clients still use it to recruit hundreds of new regular givers each year.