DonorPerfect Community Conference 2022 with speaker Joe Leach
Appeal Maker TranscriptPrint Transcript
Sean: Good afternoon and welcome to our session on AppealMaker by Joe Leach. Joe has been in the direct mail industry for nearly 30 years, starting in 1991. After a successful nine-year career, as a sales rep for Nahan Printing, a nationally recognized direct mail printer, he started Read More
Sean: Good afternoon and welcome to our session on AppealMaker by Joe Leach. Joe has been in the direct mail industry for nearly 30 years, starting in 1991. After a successful nine-year career, as a sales rep for Nahan Printing, a nationally recognized direct mail printer, he started Bliss Direct Media. He could already see that highly personalized mail and value-added services such as copywriting and campaign planning were going to be necessary to truly help the burgeoning new wave of direct mail clients.
In 2006, with the purchase of digital presses for his company and the advent of web-to-print technology, Joe began looking for a platform that could provide the first web-to-mail interface to no avail. In 2017, after many attempts to create a constant contact for direct mail campaigns, he produced the first all-digital web-to-mail non-profit appeal to donors. His product, AppealMaker has been growing rapidly ever since.
Now, before I hand it over to Joe, I’d like to remind you all to be sure to add your questions to the Q&A tab. That’ll be the question mark in the menu, so that way everyone can see them. We can vote on the most popular questions for the Q&A at the end of the presentation. Questions asked in the general chat area may not get answered due to the constant scroll of the screen. Joe, I’m going to hand it off to you.
Joe: Great. Thank you, Sean. I really appreciate it. I thank everybody for joining me today. I thought I would do something a little different. You take a little bit of a break from all the heavy-duty learning and in the spirit of storytelling, I thought I would share a little bit about how our product came to be. I hope that’s okay. I know that listening to somebody talk about themselves can get a little grueling at times so I promise to try to make it as interesting as possible.
The other thing I want to add is that I’m very grateful. I’m grateful for everything that’s happened in life. Life is interesting if nothing else, and I think it’s always fun to share. To the point, I don’t take anything for granted. A lot of people helped me along the way. I think each one of us, if we look back at life, you see that probably when you were growing up, you probably didn’t think about being in fundraising and I certainly didn’t think about being in printing and then ending up in fundraising myself.
Again, I’m going to just tell you the story of how AppealMaker came to be. It’s always interesting that before anything happens, a whole bunch of little things happen along the way. I wanted to share that. I want to share that journey with you. I promise that I’m not going to sell you anything today. When we get to the end of the presentation, though, I’m probably going to give you something. If you want to stick around, I can talk more about the product. I’m going to start with this timeline. Sean, is that working the way it should be?
Sean: All good.
Joe: Okay, good, good. This is a timeline of what happened and we’re just going to move right into this. I started the company, Bliss Media in 2000. Prior to that, I started in the printing industry almost by accident. I was 22 years old and looking for something different and a local commercial printer had put an ad out for a sales position. I applied and things progressed to the point where I was a young person sitting in front of a HR staff who looked at me and said, “Things have gone really, really well. The interview process has gone well, but I have to ask you, are you really sure you’re ready for a job of this level?”
Truthfully in my heart, I thought, I didn’t really even know what selling printing was and I said, “I’m absolutely ready to take on this task.” When I started, it didn’t take more than two weeks and I realized that I absolutely loved everything about the simplicity of putting ink on paper. It just so happened that the commercial printer that I started with specialized in direct mail. Again, I didn’t know much about what direct mail was all about.
One of the salespeople there pulled me aside and said, “Listen, the easiest way to sell direct mail in this business is to take samples that you get from home. Everybody’s getting mail, take those samples and reach out to those companies and say, I have your piece in my hand and I am 100% confident that we can produce this. We can produce it economically.” I was again, 22 years old, I wasn’t getting a whole lot of mail in my mailbox. My dad was the art teacher at the high school in the hometown where I grew up. His neighbor was the librarian. I thought, “What a better place to get a lot of mail than a library?”
I went to the librarian and I said, “Do you, by chance, get lots of,” Oh, I hate to call it junk mail, “But do you get a lot of direct mail?” He said, “I get boxes and boxes and boxes full of it, excuse me.” I said, “Would you save some of that for me?” Within two or three weeks, I showed up at my new job with literally a gigantic box full of leads. That set off my sales printing career. Direct mail was so much fun. I loved the fact that you were integrating different components. At that time in the early ’90s, there was quite a bit of personalization, but it was nothing like it was today. As that progressed, I just got more and more interested in the strategy of things.
After about nine years, the company grew and really wanted us to just concentrate on selling only. Up to that point, we had had the opportunity to be involved with everything, all of the quoting, we got involved on the creative side of things and they just really wanted us to go and get new customers. That was just simply no fun for me. That’s why I started Bliss Media in 2000. A lot of people do ask me where the name Bliss Media came from and if anybody here is a Joseph Campbell fan, I can tell you that somebody very dear to me while I was trying to decide what to name the company said, “Well, it sounds like you followed your bliss when you started the company.”
I thought that would be a great name for our printing company. About six months after we started the company, I had a partner who had a printing company and Bliss had pretty much specialized in the mailing side of things. We had a local healthcare foundation come to my partner and say, “What do you know about direct mail?” There was this, the hottest thing in healthcare was something called the Grateful Patient Mailing. It was something they had never done before. My partner said, “Yes, actually, have you talked to Joe? He knows a lot about direct mail.” Myself and the contact at the healthcare organization sat down and developed their first Grateful Patient Campaign.
Honestly, neither one of us knowing a whole lot about it, except where we were reading online the information we were getting from other organizations that were trying it. That was the very first nonprofit direct mail piece that we ever did. During that time, we started to market to lots of other healthcare organizations in particular. There were so many small hospital foundations that wanted to do direct mail, but it was very, very difficult because the costs were high.
They maybe wanted to do 500 pieces, 1,000 pieces, 1,200 pieces. Whenever we would give them a quote, they would say, “We just can’t, we can’t fit that into our budget.” Already the wheels started turning because there was such a high number of organizations who wanted to do these smaller mailings. I thought, “What could we do?” This is back before digital printing was really very popular. We developed a co-op program. Some of you maybe even participated in something like that. The idea is that everybody runs the exact same size piece, and everything gets personalized within the contents of the actual mailing piece.
There’s an efficiency of scale because a lot of small runs are being combined into one gigantic run where people can save money and use a vehicle that actually works. We were very excited. We had lots of people sign up for the program. One of the caveats was that everybody had to get their artwork together at the same time. They had to have data together at the same time, and everything had to go smoothly for us to keep things cost-efficient. Well, the deadline for the first artwork came and nobody had their stuff ready.
When the deadline came for the data processing, nobody had their stuff ready, and it became apparent to me that that was going to be very difficult to give people the flexibility that they need. We were able to get the cost down, but the flexibility just wasn’t there. Then came the First Digital Press that we bought was in 2006. We were a little bit late to the game to tell you the truth now but that was going to be the way that we could help smaller organizations do direct mail.
Even with this new equipment, it was not very cost-effective even to do the 500, the 1,000, the 1,500 piece mailings. In the background, we were doing grateful patient mailings for lots and lots of healthcare organizations in bigger quantities but each was its own account. We called it our fundraising communications division. It was a comprehensive program where we incorporated everything. We wrote copy but the digital press didn’t lend itself to that, to those sizes. In the back of my head, I kept on thinking, “There’s got to be a solution.”
Well, shortly after this, all of the web-to-print formats came out such as Vista Print and a lot of the other business mailings, where you could go online, design your business card, design your letterhead, simple collateral material that you could personalize. I thought to myself, “Why can’t we just incorporate mailing with that?” We reached out to a few of these platforms and they explained the difficulty with mailing because of the variable print and how things changed so much on each individual piece, we ran into challenges until we found somebody in Australia, and I don’t even remember the name of the company.
It was what we would call a third-party app. What that means is that Bliss was one of many clients that used the same structure basically. Well, we signed on with this company and explained to them what we were trying to do. They said, “Yes, no problem. We can do that.” After a year and a half of trying and developing and building within their system, we ran into issue after issue of trying to get a mailing piece to go through the software without any trouble. After about a year and a half, we abandoned that and we went to the Xerox system which was called XMPie.
A very, very good system, but again, after maybe a year, people were asking us questions about, “Well, why do you want to do that? Why do you want to do this?” I knew that we were running into the same problem. We actually developed our own. We actually hired our own internal developer to help develop the system within the XMPie framework. After less than two months, the developer came to me and said, “I can build this from scratch faster than we can get this system that we’re using to work.” She explained to me that it would actually be more flexible and this was a hangup that I had.
I kept thinking, “If we’re using a system that’s already developed, it should be easier. It should be more stable.” She explained to me that that wasn’t the case, and so we started to develop the AppealMaker software from scratch. It would be our own, which was exciting, but also very, very scary. Oh, there’s my start from scratch. It took between 2015 and 2017 for AppealMaker to be born. In 2017, we had our first order. It was a [unintelligible 00:15:00] organization that placed the order from beginning to end through our system. We were all doing the Snoopy dance here, very excited that we finally got to the finish line with AppealMaker.
In 2019, we had a booth at AFP and it was right across from DonorPerfect’s booth. When we went to the show, I thought to myself, “It would be a good idea for us to talk to some CRMs to see if there was the ability to integrate.” Up to this point, whenever somebody used the AppealMaker system, they would design the direct mail piece within the templates, but they would upload their list. That’s still the way most of our customers are using the system. I walked across the aisle and I happened to talk to Darrell. He looked across the aisle and he said, “I’ve been watching.”
He said, “Do I understand this right? Do people actually design their whole direct mail piece online, upload their list and send it in the mail?” I said, “Three days later it’s in the mail stream.” He said, “You’re almost like the constant contact for direct mail.” A light bulb went on and I realized that we had probably been selling our system the wrong way for a few years now.” That started a relationship between AppealMaker and DonorPerfect which has been great. Now, clients– Oops, there we go. Now, if anybody is a DonorPerfect user in AppealMaker, you can actually bring your files in, directly from the software.
In this case, we added the ability to do automated mail, not only can you bring your names in for a one-off mailing, but we have an automation feature, which is great for gift acknowledgments and thank yous. You can set this filter up so you can actually set your thank yous to go on a daily or weekly basis. This is what it looks like when we preview that. How are we doing for time? Sorry to make you dizzy. There we go. The other thing is that you can actually, you can queue up the names and look at every list that goes out before it goes out, we can put it in basically, preview mode.
Once you’re comfortable that it’s working the way you want, you can let it go and it literally just sends the names. Any of the gift recipient names, it sends a letter to them, and you would design the whole piece the way that you want. You can use any of the templates in our system to do that. Yes, so I started selling. I apologize for going back on my word. What we are doing, we’re going to open it up for some Q&A at this point.
I will say that we are actually looking for a few automated Beta testers for that system. We are going to offer up to five different organizations 200 free pieces. If you are interested in looking at that and being one of our Beta testers, you can just reach out to me after that. Sean, do we have some– I guess I’ll just open up our questions if anybody has any questions.
Sean: Yes, nothing’s popped in just yet, but if anybody has any questions, feel free to pop them into the live chat or in the Q&A, I’ll keep an eye on both. Although I have a couple of questions coming more from the training side of it. I’m not in the front lines the same way that our clients are, but I talk to them and I try my best to assist with mailings and things, to the best of my ability. My first one would be, in your opinion, what is the biggest hurdle that small and medium nonprofits have when it comes to mailing appeals?
Joe: Two things right off the bat; cost and the ability to test. When you have really small mailings, it’s really hard to get a good sample of testing. Now, one way that we overcome that is, so there’s a lot of variables to when you test something. Time is certainly one of them. If you test something at different times of the year, it’s not as accurate as if you could test 50,000 names in one mailing, that is by far, statistically, the best way to do it. Lacking that ability, if you do spread out your tests over four or five mailings, although the result is not perfect, it’s better than nothing.
Sean: Got you, got you. Got you. Excellent. We do have some questions coming in now. The first one I’ve got-
Joe: I’m listening.
Sean: -what type of mail pieces do you provide, letters, return cards, return envelopes, mailing envelopes, newsletters? The list could go on and on.
Joe: Yes. Signing up for an Appeal Maker account is free. If you just go to appealmaker.com and sign up, you can go in and look at all of the templates. Actually, even before you sign up, you can look at the products. We have 20 templates that are in the system now, and those are all proven. Those have been proven over the last 20 years of us doing nonprofit, direct mail. I see somebody asked if they could do a customized insert and we do have a few pieces that have an extra insert and those could be used for the automated system. I think that was what the nature of the other question was.
The two most popular products that we have is something called the Donor Renewal, which has a number 10 envelope with a very personalized letter, and a detached remittance slip, and a business reply envelope. The second one is that same thing with a full-page insert. We just now added a product that has a buck slip instead of the full-page insert. We have postcards, small cards, 6” by 9” cards, quite a few.
Sean: Do you integrate with multiple programs? That was another question that we got.
Joe: When you say multiple programs, I’d need more definition on that. Right now, Donor Perfect is the only CRM that we’ve got, the technology ready to go for integration-
Sean: [unintelligible 00:22:36].
Joe: -because we love Donor Perfect so much.
Sean: Of course, of course.
Joe: Darryl, thanks for joining us, by the way. Darryl has been really great to us, over the years, and has been a big supporter of the product, and we really appreciate that.
Sean: Now, I know earlier, you promised you weren’t going to do a lot of sales pitching but [unintelligible 00:22:58]–
Joe: If you asked me, I’ll be happy to.
Sean: I am curious, what is the advantage of a program like AppealMaker over a traditional mailing house?
Joe: The cost and speed. Even setting up your campaign or your appeal from scratch is hours. If you know what you want and you design the template, it’s literally an hour, you could set up a template very, very easily. Once it’s in there, and you want to repeat, it’s minutes. It’s literally, you go in, make a change, save it. I think the other great thing about the reason that the speed is enhanced in our program is that the proofing all happens right there on the spot. When you upload your list of names, you get to see the actual piece on the screen with the variable data in it.
If you want to click through every name in the mailing, you could do that. You can even search for particular names. A lot of our orgs have high-end donors that they may separate or they may include in these mailings but if they have somebody who’s a really big donor, they can type their name in and actually see their piece. They can see how their envelope will look, they can see what the salutation is going to look like, they can see how the variable gift string came through. It’s all 100%.
Then once you hit ‘go’, it’s three days later, it’s in the mail, if it’s a smaller mailing. If we get into the 10,000 and 15,000, 20,000 piece mailings, those do take a little longer than three days but if it’s 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 pieces, it’s out the door in three days.
Sean: I think that’s a pretty reasonable turnaround time. Do you have any sort of NCOA offerings national [unintelligible 00:24:55]?
Joe: Yes, NCOA is automatically included in all the pricing. Postage, when you look at our prices,and you can get a price for anything you want right on the AppealMaker website. There’s no waiting for a quote. You can just go there and pick the template that you want, put the quantity in, and the type of postage that you want to use. You can do nonprofit, you can do pre-sorted first class, you can do full first class.
Sean: What are the options to make it look a little more personalized? Are there actual stamps on there? Are you using barcodes? That was one of the questions from the Q&A?
Joe: Yes. One of the things that we’ve done for a few years now, is we use a mailer’s pre-canceled postmark. What we do is we take a, something called a pre-canceled stamp, it’s the nonprofit stamp that you can buy from the post office, and you can put it on your mailing. Generally speaking, that goes through the mail with no mark over the top of it. It doesn’t look like the post office’s mail. It’s better than a permit imprint but it still doesn’t quite look like it.
The post office, a few years ago, started allowing mailers to make their own postmark. We’ve got a postmark that we then inkjet over the top of the stamp, and it looks pretty realistic. Again, if you go into AppealMaker, you can see examples of what that looks like. Did I answer that question in full?
Sean: I’ll keep an eye out to see if the audience member who asked has any follow-ups but from my end, I think you did a good job. I do have another question. Specifically referring to citation here, but more broadly speaking, what are the editing options in your proofing stage?
Joe: Yes. Oh, yes, I saw that too. Yes, you can change anything you want at the proofing stage. You can change record by record. To be truthful, the only downside is that it doesn’t change it in your original work. The list that you uploaded, obviously, doesn’t get changed. The list that’s in the AppealMaker, once it’s been uploaded, that will stay changed. Yes, you can. If it’s just one or two names, the best thing to do is to fix it right in AppealMaker.
Sean: All right. Sounds good. You did answer the previous question in full, we just got a confirmation.
Joe: [unintelligible 00:27:16]. Sean, I think I missed– There was just a general question about making it look less automated. If we use a match mail piece, which means that the outer envelope is matching the letter, we do put a code in there so that we can make sure we don’t mismatch a letter and an envelope. We hide the number on the outer envelope behind the stamp. The only place you see something even a little bit strange, maybe, would be on the letter.
We also take off any endorsement lines. The post office wants you to use an endorsement line. That’s a thin line that has a bunch of asterisks and says ‘auto three-digit’ or ‘auto five-digit’, that’s not absolutely required by the post office unless you get down to a walk sequence. None of these mailings that we’re doing are big enough to get to that level. We don’t use that. We always put the barcode in the lower right position so it looks just like the post office would have put that barcode in there.
We’re very sensitive to making mail look as real as possible. We also have many handwritten fonts that can be used either on the address or within the piece, to make a personalized note. There’s custom fields. Let’s say you wanted to write a special note to each person. You could literally put that in a field and import that, and then add that variable or add that field to your card, or whatever in that, and use it personalized or use a handwritten font, and that would look like a personal message from you.
We had a client the other day that’s was talking about running into somebody at a gala and was going to actually type in the field for that person’s record, “It was good to see you again at the gala.” It was the first time we’ve known of anybody using it in that way but you can do that, it just depends on how much work you want to do on the list. Yes, [unintelligible 00:29:40] we have 12 customized fields.
Sean: It sounds good. I see we’re getting close to the end. Did you have any closing remarks, Joe?
Joe: No. I want to thank everybody. I have to tell you that this is the first virtual [chuckles] conference I’ve ever done. It’s a lot easier when you have the audience in front of you. I appreciate you working with me as I stumbled through some of these things. Again, I hope it was a little bit of a break from lots of heavy-duty learning. If anybody wants to know anymore about the product, let me know. I see a lot of people saying, “Count us in,” and so I will try to collect those. I’ll try to reach out to each of those people. Oh, there’ll be a record of this, correct, Sean?
Joe: I’ll reach out and let people know when we’re going to move forward with the Beta, but it’s going to be soon. We’re hoping that people are ready to get working on it.
Sean: Sounds good. I want to thank everybody for attending the session and thank you again, Joe, for taking the time to present today. We hope you’ll join us as we wrap up day one with closing remarks, given by Robbie Hilly. Also, our vendor lounges are open for you to visit so don’t miss out. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your day. Enjoy our closing remarks and we’ll see, hopefully all of you, tomorrow morning.
Joe: Great. Thanks, everybody.
Sean: Take care. Bye.Read Less
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