One-time classmates Beth and Kellen Becker celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary earlier this month. The two originally had been introduced 30 years ago at Lake Forest College, when they were undergraduates at the small, liberal arts institution (enrollment: 1,500) spread out spaciously on...
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One-time classmates Beth and Kellen Becker celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary earlier this month. The two originally had been introduced 30 years ago at Lake Forest College, when they were undergraduates at the small, liberal arts institution (enrollment: 1,500) spread out spaciously on more than 100 acres thirty miles north of Chicago. Six months ago, the 1980’s campus couple received a personalized, Valentine’s Day mailing from their alma mater targeted specifically to former students, like them, who had met at LFC, fallen in love, and subsequently married.
“The Valentine mailing … attracted some donations from people who have never given before,” revealed Derek Lambert, the college’s director of annual giving and himself a 2003 alumnus of LFC. Once a person makes a gift to the college, he or she is much more likely to continue to do so every year, he noted. So it pays to be innovative.
With a new school year beginning, most small, private colleges such as Lake Forest are putting the final touches on creative autumn solicitations to bolster endowments. At $70+ million, LFC’s endowment is relatively generous for a school of its small stature. A few years ago, its Fall Solicitation piece was even more complex than the more recent Cupid mailing this past February.
“We used variable photography and messaging based on alumni majors and sports [participation],” Lambert explained. “We [used] place-holder information about how the annual fund supports financial aid, faculty research, campus beautification, and so on.” In a multichannel twist, he said photos from the printed pieces were uploaded to Facebook, and the people pictured were tagged, creating a further buzz about the piece.
“In the end, people were calling us asking if all of our alums were getting information about ‘chemistry and softball,’ or ‘Were we really being that personalized?’ The president of the college took a call from an alumnus who had never given before, thanking us for sending him a picture of his favorite professor and made his first donation -- over 20 years after graduating. It was a lot of work, but the piece did well,” Lambert concluded.
Now, all of Lake Forest College’s* direct mailings use variable data to one extent or another, he shared. “We ask for specific gift amounts from people based on past giving and past own research. Basically, if you can give me a piece of data, I will use it as best as I can. We only have about 12,000 living, solicitable alumni -- there is no reason not to be as personal as [we] can,” Lambert said.
Adding Value to Data
But such sophisticated versioning and personalization can be a challenge because “90 percent of companies are all messed up with their data sets,” reported John Foley, Jr., CEO of interlinkONE. Beyond using software tools that comply with the U.S. Postal Service’s Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) and National Change of Address (NCOA) processing systems, what PSPs should be asking their customers is, “How can we help you with your data?” he advised.
“Deduping and merge/purge are basic tasks,” Foley said, noting that software from vendors such as Pitney Bowes and Satori can accomplish data cleansing. “There also are robust VDP programs from vendors including GMC Software Technology, PTI [Printable], Pageflex [MSDH Inc.], and XMPie [part of Xerox] that make swapping out variable images easier. Print files need to be prepared properly for gender-related images,” Foley added. To make a piece more compelling, mail for males may portray a blue car, for instance, while those pieces for female recipients may feature a minivan.