Learn How the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Motivated More Visitors to Give

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By Chris Yuhasz

One of the country’s most visited national parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders for 469 breathtaking miles through the Appalachian Highlands. Access to the park is free, and federal funding only goes so far in helping to keep it in good condition.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation helps bridge that funding gap to support vital park initiatives. And with around 15 million people visiting the park every year, there’s a built-in audience of potential donors. But how can you motivate more of them to give?

The foundation has donor recognition boards located around the park. For several years, it had been placing donation appeals at these boards in the form of two-sided rack cards.

Rita Larkin

Rita Larkin

But according to Rita Larkin, the foundation’s communications director, that format limited what could be conveyed and, perhaps more importantly, it didn’t provide an easy way to send in a donation. “We decided we wanted a less passive piece,” she said.

Changing it up with attractive, multi-fold self-mailer brochures

So how do you go from a “less passive piece” to a more effective one? The foundation found an answer with a self-mailer brochure, an economical all-in-one printed piece that I’ve described in detail here.

Thus far, the foundation has produced two styles of five-panel self-mailer brochures, one for its overall mission and one for a specific historical restoration project. More specifically, these foldable self-mailer brochures have provided:

  • Ample space to present inspiring photography
  • More room for park details
  • Easy-to-follow options for donating digitally, including a user-friendly URL and a convenient text-to-give phone number
  • A self-addressed, detachable envelope for those who want to give in the more conventional way

“The fold-out option gives us a big spread to represent the park’s beauty in the photography. But then we can also get down to the nitty-gritty of taking a step toward supporting a national park.” —Rita Larkin, Communications Director, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Self-mailer brochure layout (with fold lines)

Self-mailer brochure layout (with fold lines) | Credit: Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Self-mailer brochure layout (with fold lines)

Credit: Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Distributing tens of thousands of mailers to self-selecting recipients, increasing first-time donors and ‘planting a seed’ for the future

The foundation has been using these self-mailers for three years and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

“People are picking these up like crazy, and the benefits are far-reaching.” —Rita Larkin, Communications Director, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Here’s a sampling of those benefits:

  1. Distributing 10,000 self-mailer brochures a year without breaking the bank. The foundation can afford these more complicated print pieces thanks to advances in digital print technology that make them easier to produce.
  2. Providing a more effective takeaway piece to park visitors. “Every time a visitor takes one of these eye-catching self-mailers with them, we’re planting a seed about who we are. Plus, we’re presenting several ways to give conveniently,” said Larkin.
  3. Increasing first-time donors. These mailers have helped increase a specific type of donor. Larkin said that people who send in donations with the self-enclosed envelope or text a donation via the self-mailer directions are typically first-time donors. “That’s really important because it’s the first step to them becoming what we call long-term stewards of the park.”

It all comes down to this: Visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway can now reach for a self-mailer to take with them — a piece that delivers a powerful takeaway message with a clear and compelling ask woven right into it.

Why not try out a more effective printed takeaway?

Maybe 2021 could be the year you reimagine how you use printed donor appeals. Sure, self-mailers can still be an excellent centerpiece for your mailing campaigns. But using them as a takeaway like the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation does opens up a new realm of donor possibilities.

If you have a trusted printer you’ve been working with for years, tap into their knowledge and ask about self-mailer brochures. Time and time again, I’ve seen how these can strengthen outreach efforts, increase fundraising and still cut costs.

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