Pivot Quick in Snail Mail

Right now, the world is changing at a rapid rate. With pandemics, changing work environments, and civil unrest amplifying systemic issues to catalyze important change, it can be difficult to figure out how tried-and-true direct mail best practices and anchor campaigns fit into this new reality. What do you do in the face of the unknown? What tools, tips, and techniques should you use when world events mean your program needs to pivot—and pivot fast—when you work in direct mail (DM)?

Step one: Talk to your digital counterparts

Discuss options to go live with the new messaging on your homepage, over email and social, and SMS and phone. These channels have an unmatched ability to get your message out quickly, as well as giving your organization the option to test language and more fully develop your plan of action for your donors as new details on the topic reveal themselves.

However, if most of your donors are direct mail responsive, aren’t mobile opted in, or if there isn’t much overlap between your email and DM programs, these channels alone won’t get your message to everyone that needs to hear it. If you do not have key techniques ready to implement so you can quickly and efficiently reach your direct mail donors, you will be missing out on a key group of supporters. It’s incredibly important that these people, too, know your organizational response to a changing environment.

Direct mail is not a beauty contest

So a simple and straightforward urgent message received in a timely manner is often more important than providing donors with a highly-produced, design-heavy package. If your mail schedule and cadence allow you to print new material, you can create a simple package to get your message to your audience. Many times, you can use an “urgent-gram,” which is pre-printed material that allows you to simply add your organizational messaging.

Rework what you’ve already done

Recoding data from a recent appeal or renewal can also shorten the time frame from creative development to your drop date. If you are able to truncate your art approval timelines, recoding data (which can mean faster turn times than starting from scratch) can allow you to get your message in the mail quickly.

Look at some production-focused strategies

These can include digital printing, duplex lasering, and multiple-window no-print envelopes, and all of these strategies can shorten timelines. In digital printing, you can print and laser your material all at once, bypassing the proof, or blueline, step of the process. Duplex lasering allows an organization to print material without finalizing their messaging before printing. This gives another week or two to allow a situation to develop, thereby giving you the most information at your disposal before finalizing your stance. By mailing in simple formats with stock that is readily available, you will improve your chances of getting in the mail as quickly as possible.

Have the option to change your signer

Often overlooked, but a useful way to cut timelines for some organizations: if a finance officer, director of marketing, or membership chair can sign instead of going all the way to a president or CEO for approval, you can shorten the timeline you need to vet a package but still ensure your organization’s unique brand and voice are maintained. If a package was planned with the use of a celebrity signer in mind, consider moving that tactic to later in your calendar and swapping in a mailing that needs fewer approvals so that you can move quickly.

But what if you’ve already printed, the signer is final, and your cadence won’t allow you to miss a mailing?

A buckslip can be a quick and easy way to add information to an existing mailing before it goes in the mail. While this does not allow you to tailor your entire message/approach to a mailing, in a pinch, it allows you to connect with these donors without missing a mailing or having to trash your printed material. For programs like acquisition where list clearances only last for so long, a buckslip can ensure your organization isn’t ignoring the current state of the world, but also isn’t missing out on needed funds to further their mission.

Direct mail means planning and working far in advance, but when your plans get turned on their head, it doesn’t mean you have no options. It’s important to make sure your donors know where your organization stands and to reinforce that you are being good stewards of your donors’ gifts—especially in unknown times.

Being able to act quickly gives you the best chance of reaching your donors, and having the ability to be the first in inboxes and mailboxes can make a substantial difference in your capacity to raise funds around a specific issue and keep donors informed. Allow yourself to pivot quickly, or at least, as quickly as we can in snail mail!

Want to join the conversation? Work with us!

Remote Collaboration

At CCAH, many of our employees worked remotely even before the current COVID-19 crisis sent all of us to our home offices. Over the years we’ve learned some best practices for teleworking that can be applied now, but also whenever you have a teammate who isn’t physically in the office with you for any reason!

Turn On Your Video

When working from home, it can be tempting to dress as though it’s extra casual Friday every day of the week, and though this post won’t dive into the value of getting “dressed for work” even when you’re only going as far as your home office, it is a great idea to be presentable for the camera. Being face to face with your team, even when you aren’t physically in the same space, is nothing short of a necessity. Seeing each other allows for nuance, body language, and important conversational cues that just aren’t possible if you’re using voice-only communication methods.

Keep (Or Set Up) Standing Meetings

Without the opportunity to run into each other in an office, it’s important to keep in touch with coworkers! If you have a mentor or friend who you have lunch with, or a coworker on another team who you share ideas with, set up a weekly or biweekly chat so that you can keep talking! Similarly, if you have check-ins with your teammates when you’re in the office – individually or in groups – keep them on the calendar. Setting time aside to keep up with each other is a great way to keep remote work from feeling like a lonely endeavor.

Don’t Forsake Small Talk

When a meeting begins in person, there’s often a few minutes when folks are gathering that is taken up by that dreaded social phenomenon – small talk. But think about how many times a little non-work-related conversation in the middle of the day left you feeling renewed and a little more connected to whoever you talked with. That kind of social connection is vital when trying to maintain morale and collaboration from solo work environments! Use a few minutes as everyone joins a conference call to ask about everyone’s day or commiserate about the latest telework woe. Those conversations build relationships, and teams that know and trust each other do better work.

Use Group Chats

Many online platforms like Slack, Skype for Business, or Google, offer the ability to put your team in a good old fashioned chat room. This allows discussion to flow with buy-in from everyone, and helps to foster connection among teammates near and far.

Share Ideas and Brainstorm

Working from home can feel isolating, but one way to keep that at bay is to keep lines of communication open for new ideas and brainstorms. When teammates trust each other, it isn’t so scary to share new ideas – even when they might need a little work or be less than great. Any suggestion that doesn’t make it into the mainstream can still be a starting point for fruitful conversation!

Want to join the conversation? Work with us!

After Candy and Caffeine: How to Get Creative When You’re Out of Ideas

A deadline is looming. A blank page glares at you from your laptop screen. You’ve had three vats of coffee in as many hours, along with several pieces (it was boxes, but we won’t tell) of candy from a post-Valentine’s Day sale at CVS.

And still the answer eludes you.

Your project just needs that one big, brilliant idea. But you’re out of ideas!

You contemplate spilling your coffee on your laptop so you can tell IT that it broke and buy time while you wait for a replacement (or a stroke of genius) to arrive. You brew a fourth vat of coffee…

We’ve all been there. Many, many times. Channeling creativity can prove a challenge for anyone, no matter what field you work in or how seasoned you may be in your career. And if there’s a deadline (and there’s always a deadline), creativity can feel even more elusive.

But we have tips we’ve put to the test to get those creative engines running when your typical sources of fuel, like candy or coffee, are failing to ignite.

We asked CCAH staff in a variety of positions, from data and analytics to graphic design and production,  “How do you brainstorm when you’re out of ideas?”

While many ideas bubbled up*—some from under heaps of foil candy wrappers—one response emerged again and again:

Collaborate!

When you’re in a rut, bringing in reinforcements always seems to help. Recruiting a team with wide-ranging expertise and experiences can be just what you need to get unstuck.

“When I’m out of ideas, I turn to my coworkers for inspiration!” said Rebecca Barton, Account Representative. “We have so many creative people who are doing innovative package techniques, so whenever I hit a roadblock, I will ask the people around me what they think and, through that collaboration, usually find exactly what a package was missing.”

How you collaborate is also important: Creating a space where everyone can contribute freely and openly will likely yield the best results.

“I’m a fan of collaborating with others. I think the key is creating an open conversation where everyone can share whatever goes through their mind — the good and terrible ideas, stuff that is inside and outside the box,” said Will Kraiger, Vice President. “Sometimes even the terrible ideas shed light on something that can move the conversation to the right place.  You can always reject, edit, and refine things after the brainstorm is over.”

But what if there’s no one else around? We hear you, remote employees! If you can’t get a group brainstorm together, here are a few other ideas to turn to when ideas are what you need.

Do something totally unrelated to the task at hand.

Take your dog for a walk, do yoga, draw, or just work on a different type of assignment. Engage in anything that lets your brain take a break from the challenge but keeps you engaged.

Do nothing.

Well, almost nothing. Meditate! The benefits of mindfulness are well documented, so we won’t recap them here. But, om my, meditation came up enough times in our informal survey that we’d be remiss not to add it to our list.

Go outside.

A change of scenery can bring a change of perspective and help you get out of your headspace. And if there are downsides to sunlight and fresh air, we’ve yet to hear of them.

Keep an idea bank.

Always be prepared. Chances are, most of us will hit a creative block at some point in our work. So it’s helpful to keep a running list of creative concepts and ideas you can go to for inspiration whenever you’re stumped on a particular challenge.

Whether it’s deep breathing or sipping tea, doing Crossfit or watching “Brain Games” on National Geographic, we uncovered countless ways our staff tap into their creative energy. But above all, collaboration is—for all of us at CCAH—at the very heart of the process. It’s how we spark ideas, spur innovation, and find creative solutions to the tough challenges. Want to join the conversation? Work with us!

*Disclaimer: Our tips for channeling creativity have not been scientifically tested, but they have been personally attempted by at least one or more CCAH team members who seem to like them. However, we believe you should always talk to your doctor before taking up new activities or quitting caffeine.

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