The Replication Demystification

Oct 26, 2022

When it’s officially fall and there’s a nip in the air, you can rest assured that I’ll be watching Halloween Christmas flicks. Don’t judge me, it’s a form of selfcare. And it’s not just me! Last year, on election night, more people tuned into the Hallmark channel than CNN.

And if there’s one thing I know for sure about Christmas flicks it’s that they follow a very real formula that works Christmas magic.

Here's the gist:  A beautiful big city career woman meets newly widowed small-town man raising his adorable daughter. Right about the time of the first commercial break, you get that the ‘almost kiss’—it always gets interrupted. Fill some time with their relationship-building Christmas activities—tree decorating, cooking baking, the ever-popular play—and you begin rooting for them, even though you know how it will end.

Then comes what my hubs calls ‘the misunderstanding’. As I’m watching, he’ll pass by and ask, “Have they had the misunderstanding yet?” He thinks he’s funny. What he really wants to know is if it’s almost over or not. I'm on to his antics! If they’ve had the misunderstanding, we’re close the Hallmark finish line where they get together, kiss, and live happily after as the snowflakes begin to fall.

elvis presley snow GIF by Hallmark Channel

 My sons always ask if the lead characters are Chris or Nick—they must get their humor from their dad. But, quite often, they’re right. Because when a recipe works, it’s works. Do not detour, do not pass go, do not collect $200; just follow the instructions to what Hallmark knows will be a hit. Unsurprisingly, other channels, like Lifetime and Netflix have also replicated the Hallmark recipe because they know a good thing when they see it.

So, what can we also learn from Hallmark?

Left Brain Marketing Methods:  There’s nothing more left-brained than following a recipe. It’s like a built-in checklist. And I love a good checklist! And a donor direct mail letter definitely has a recipe that works if you follow it.

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: If you can learn anything from Hallmark it’s this:  Replication works! You can still be clever and full of moxie, but you can utilize ideas inspired by others or inspired by something you did years ago. Not every idea starts with a blank screen, just ask Hallmark.

It’s about that time where we begin to draft our end-of-year giving direct mail letters to those that have an Affinity for what we do and the Capacity to do something about it. Let’s take a lesson from Hallmark and work with some tried-and-true recipes.
love story cooking GIF by Hallmark Channel

Left Brain Marketing Methods:  I’ve spent a lot of time this past year trying to determine the ingredients of a quality donor direct mail letter. We look at marketing/stewardship/communication to our donors as a team sport at our office. So, ensuring that each donor letter speaks directly to the needs of the donor while also meeting our office standards can be tricky.

That's why we adopted a ‘Mad Libs’ approach to our marketing plan. But it’s not as simple as adding nouns, verbs, and adjectives like the original Mad Libs. You must be strategic in the information you want each donor to have and know why. That’s why I developed Tad Libs—because if you change each letter a tad, you change it a ton!

First, I identified what could potentially be different in each donor letter based on the donor segment. I call this the Tad Libs ION Key because each of the customized areas end in ION.

Clearly, donor letters for a brand-new donor need to contain information that speaks to them—someone who doesn’t know much about what you do. But marketing pieces to past or current board members should look markedly different from your new donor letters.  Utilizing the Tad Libs ION Key will help you create couture communications to every donor segment that you have, enabling you to use your left brain to meet each donor where they are in their journey of building a relationship with the community foundation.

Right Brain Marketing Moxie:  In the book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Most things have been done, but they haven’t been done by you.”  I love that. Many ideas we use are inspired by other things we have seen—sometimes in our genre, but other times just things that we experience as we live our lives.

For example, one year I sent this to one of our interns for her birthday:

My husband saw that, remembered it, and send me this on my very next birthday; the resemblance is uncanny...LOL:

Then, we had a Waffle Event for some of the generous women in our community and recycled the idea once again:

Hallmark says that some of their movies are even created simply after a robust brainstorming session of simple movie titles--a mere bit of inspiration. Literally, they spitball lots of different movie titles and then see which ones might be enticing enough to craft a plot around. Christmas on the Rocks was invented before they even began researching on the internet about families who rock climb each Christmas. Hallmark screenwriter and author, Karen Schaler, says all you need for a good movie is a catchy title combined with her own checklist, “No snow, no go. Clink, clink, don’t drink. If I’m not crying, I’m not buying” and ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, you have a hit on your hands!

Now that you have a quality checklist of what needs to be customized in each donor letter through your Tad Libs ION Key, all you need is a Tad Lib Template that can be customized.

I write the templates at our office and each of my teammates customizes them based on the segment they are building a relationship with. If the donors are young, we won’t talk about RMD’s; if they are 70 ½ or older, we won’t give information about Venmo.  You get the idea! It makes the team sport of marketing/stewardship/communication manageable. Plus, it gives the donors a letter that meets their needs versus a generic message that is watered down so much it doesn’t delight anyone.

See the source image

So far, I’ve crafted one set of Tad Libs with a recipe theme that you could use for your next fiscal year if you have a small staff and would rather invest your time in meeting with donors rather than behind a keyboard. But you could create templates of your own.

I worked with a client last year that said she has always wanted to enter a fresh, new year with all her donor direct mail pieces ready to mail merge and send when the calendar indicated it was the proper time. That must be a great feeling, right?

Yes, it’s only October, but now it the time to begin thinking about how to make your 2023 even better than 2022.  How do you want to feel on January 1? Use your time wisely by working smarter, not harder. It's all about the Replication Demystification and you now have the recipe for success! After all, if it’s good enough for Hallmark, it’s good enough for you. 

  All My Best,

[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc.

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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