This is the first in a five-post series on a direct mail make-over currently being tested by the University of California at Berkeley (Cal), my alma mater. Read Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The fundraisers at Cal had a problem: they needed to raise more money from alumni to support the diverse education and research programs where Cal excels, but their current direct mail program wasn�t increasing the size of the alumni donor pool. While the standard annual appeal in a letter format did a good job at renewing existing donors, says Virginia Gray, Cal�s associate director of annual giving and regional programs, the letters weren�t bringing in many new donors.

To learn more about these alumni who werenââ?¬â?¢t currently donating, Cal sponsored some focus groups. ââ?¬Å?We found that a lot of people felt like going to Cal was a big, impersonal experience and they didnââ?¬â?¢t have the same emotional connections and bonding experiences that youââ?¬â?¢d find at a smaller university,ââ?¬Â says Virginia.cookiecutter.jpg

Cal must also contend with the misperception that as a state-funded school, it doesnââ?¬â?¢t really need individual donors. ââ?¬Å?At private schools,ââ?¬Â explains Virginia, ââ?¬Å?you are educated about how the people before you are funding your education now, and that you need to give back so the school can go on. You donââ?¬â?¢t get that message at Cal.ââ?¬Â

The alumni in the focus group also shared how they viewed themselves as a very diverse group and that the Cal experience enhanced that diversity, unlike other private institutions of similar caliber that churn out cookie-cutter graduates (the staid professionals that graduate from rival Stanford, for example, come to this Golden Bear’s mind).

The cookie-cutter imagery stuck with Virginia and her colleagues as they pulled together a creative brief for a new direct mail campaign centered on a full-color, multi-panel, graphic-laden brochure. While Cal had tried colorful brochures before, it would be the first time they had tried something as bold as they had in mind this time.

Coming Tomorrow: The cookie cutter concept falls apart, but an even better concept comes together.

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