Thursday, July 3, 2008

Angry honey bees and fundraising direct mail packs

Just before I journeyed to Toronto airport on Canada Day (1st July) I read a fascinating story about a 'Transportation mishap' (no kidding, that is what the Globe and Mail called it).

A truck with millions of bees overturned. The bees were on their way back home in their hives after working hard pollinating some blueberries.

Most of the bees were rescued, according to the RCMP (the Mounted Police, or Mounties) and no people were injured, though unsurprisngly 'Anyone with a bee allergy in St. Leonard, New Brunswick, was encouraged to stay in and keep the windows shut.'

I hear you, you want to know what the connection is with direct mail packs.

Well, Pareto Fundraising is obsessed with data. Our clients, as charities, all demand evidence that the money they spend on techniques and ideas is worth it. And we demand this of ourselves too.

So, for example, in a mail appeal we have a load of tactics we use (specific ask amounts, strong proposition, thorough targeting, great story with a start, middle and end, additional brochures or 'lifts', full page response coupons etc). Of course there are more subjective 'tactics' such as brilliant copy and design.

Together these tactics mean the pack tends to be large - often the letter is 4 pages long. But, they have an enormous impact - a recent appeal for a charity using those tactics raised 4.5x more than a pack which didn't use them.

Back to bees.

With millions of bees hanging around, 'bee experts' and the police had to get all the bees back into their hives and rescued, whilst minimising stinging. Bee stings are 100% fatal for one party involved, and always hurt the other party so are to be avoided.

According to Globe and Mail, bee expert Paul Vautour said "These bees will not go out looking for anyone to sting... Still, remember that they've had a traumatic experience ...."

So the mounties listened to the experts, who told them to use smoke.

[Hang in there dear reader, it all joins up in the end]...

Again, according to the newspaper, '...people working at the scene were wearing full protective gear and dousing the bees with smoke to keep them docile.'

'...The exact effects of smoke are not known, but experts say that it can disorient the bees. It may also fool them into thinking a fire is coming, causing them to gorge on honey in anticipation of fleeing. While they are doing this they can be handled more safely. It is also harder for them to sting with a belly full of honey.'

In other words the 'experts' haven't a bloody clue why smoke works.

Back to our direct mail packs; we have tested lots of the different elements of the tactics and usually the individual tactic makes a slight impact on the result on its own. But we rarely know why, and the search for 'why' can often be distracting and even cause costly delays.

For a simple example, disbelief that a longer letter - despite all the tactics involved - could raise more than a shorter letter is so strong that CEOs and even fundraisers have vetoed the whole approach.

I think you get where I am going with this rather jet-lagged ramble. (I am doing this at a ridiculous early hour in the UK).

If you were a Royal Candian Mounted Police Oficer ordered to go in an pick up 10 million bees and put them back on a truck, would you care how the smoke works?

1 comment:

John Lepp said...

Great post Sean. As a "creative" guy I work a lot on intuition and gut - but find not a lot of people at charities are keen on that kind of approach. They want hard facts and figures. The best approach is a lot of both I think.

Disaster Fundraising Guide download it here