It seems that for a long time now, about 80% of snail mail that arrives at my household are direct mail appeals. And the escalating war of the front-end premium has now reached epic proportions.
A front-end premium the classic and most familiar example being return address label stickers – is anything a charity sends you as enticement to open the package or create a sense of obligation.
Dream catchers, pens, Tibetan prayer-flags, nickels, and calendars. Enough calendars to create a rip in the time-space continuum, it seems. I like the cute animals a lot-especially baby endangered frogs. Although it seems like a waste of money at times- all this mail, really, in the aggregate, hundreds of thousands of pieces – campaigns are as much about teaching about the organization as they are about getting donors in the door and moving them up. Some of them can even be converted into higher levels of giving after they have given their first gift, and occasionally a person who gives a small amount each year can leave a very large bequest.
A creative, very bulky package we received came recently from an organization that supports children. The kit came with Christmas cards and matching envelopes, Christmas stickers, gift tags, and of course a letter and even some ornaments. What struck me was that in addition to telling the story of the organization, you were encouraged to use the Christmas-y stuff inside to send small gifts to the charity alongside or in place of the gifts you would normally give to people on your holiday gift list.
But It’s been a long time since I worked with direct mail campaigns and transitioned into the life of being a professional minister. The “front-end” premiums I see now reminded me of the myriad of ways we welcome newcomers to a faith community.
Meeting a faith community is like receiving a good “front-end premium”- a human-powered gift basket that unfolded for you before you signed the membership book, and continued to give to you for months after. How did what you received there in the first few weeks or months you attended compete with all the other “offers” for your time? Did you go home with a nice solid idea of what you would encounter there? Was their follow through, perhaps a gift, perhaps a phone call, something that reminded you tangibly of how you hoped to heal or grow in that place.
Newsletters- we may receive so much detail – or maybe there is not enough?
If the human “front end premium” works- by this I mean the various ways you were engaged – you brought your friend to the community (attached your “gift” sticker, and passed on your love and support for the organization) and then realized that your deep well was not only watered by your interactions there, but strengthened your ability to live.
In the end, careful and well-managed “front-end” introductions to the community can go a long way to introduce you.
But is the stickiness of human connection that is the cement.