Light Bulb with Plant Growing Inside Kevin Hawley

Barefoot Insiders

GAME: Communication Strategy

We had a client who told us that every morning he sat in front of his computer and, before he touched his keyboard, he whispered: “Let the games begin.”

Work should have elements of play — because we learn faster and more effectively when our work is fun. The acronym GAME is pretty simple and easy to remember — but don’t let its simplicity fool you. It’s foundational.

GAME is an easy way to remember the basics of communications. It stands for:

  • Goals
  • Audience
  • Messages
  • Execution


That’s the beauty of this.

Let’s take a simple direct mail piece and apply GAME to it:

Goals: What do you want to do with this appeal?

I challenge you to be extremely specific. There can be more than one goal. For instance, there is likely a very real revenue goal. State it: “raise $120,000”. But there may be other donor related goals. Perhaps you would like to increase the average gift given. challenge donors with a reach offer that helps them stretch to give more. Or perhaps the package is designed to motivate lapsed donors. Or it could be an acquisition package. In that case a stronger goal is the dollar value needed to acquire 1 donor.

Take time after the appeal has run its course to see if you have met your stated goals.

Audience: Who is going to get this appeal?

Define the segments. If possible, articulate the character of the audience. This is tough. On the surface we know that most organizations segment their audiences: mass donors, major donors, middle donors, lapsed donors… etc. On top of that the segmentation will include segments that have given within the past 12 months, 24 months… etc.

Segmentation varies within each organization. Experience has taught us that organizations with small data bases – under 10,000 donors – increase results by mailing to all donors who have given in the past 60 months. Lapsing donors too quickly erodes the data base. Remember that most donors pick and choose their favourite charities. They often have a number of charities they like to give to. But they may not have the funds to give every year. While they may not have given for 24+ months, they still are interested in your cause. Your challenge is to motivate them to give again.

But do you really KNOW your donors? Do you know what interests them or are you trying to get them to be interested in what interests you?

This is a difficult discussion. While you do want to educate and inform donors, you also want to engage their interest enough to give. That may be a slow process, one that needs to be carefully cultivated. Making sure you study appeal results helps you to understand their values. Looking at the patterns of responses over five years helps you understand what really peaked their interest and what doesn’t really relate to them.

But be careful.

We are quick to say “The match, the match always does it.” I agree, the match is a healthy way to engage donors. But look a little deeper. Are there certain matches that did better than others?

Test on a regular basis. Choose your tests carefully, making sure that each package you send I only testing one things. Incorporate the results of those tests in your next packages, building your knowledge about your donors.

Message: What is your key message?

First of all, every organization should have 3 to 7 KEY organizational messages. At least one of these messages will be found in every communication piece.

When strategically positioning the messages for a communication package, choose one of the key organizational messages that will be threaded throughout the package, making sure you build brand equity – even in direct mail. You need to have a skilled direct mail copy writer and design to do this well.

Then you need to list the messages that are essential for this package. There may be specific things the donor needs to know before they are motivated to give. Be clear about that. And be brutally honest about what is superficial organizational stuff that is not critical to the appeal. Too often appeal packages have too much info that just doesn’t matter.

In fact, I have one on my desk right now. Right in the middle of letter, in bullets, it says:


  • A registered, Non-Profit, Charitable organization
  • For 50 years we have…
  • Administer programmes…


Why would I give? And the P.S.? We would be happy to provide you with a Charitable Receipt.

This appeal has about 5 other messages – none of them linked and none of them engaging the donor in real need.

Again, from experience, the best performing appeals have a strong message threaded throughout the piece and that message is restated in different ways – not because the donor doesn’t understand, but because each donor relates more strongly to a different aspect of the same message.

Execution: What do we need to do?

Think about how you are going to get the message to the donor. Even in a simple direct mail appeal, this is an important question.

What is the package like? Is there an insert? Is there a premium? Is the carrier going to be something different than a #10? What are the elements of the package (Outer Envelope, Letter, Response Device, Business Reply Envelope, Insert, Coupons…. )

The communication strategy needs to include digital components. Is there a landing page that corresponds to the appeal that makes it easy for the donor to give online? We know that online donations are often inspired by a mail piece. Is there an email component? Is there a chaser?

And most importantly, what thank you are the donors who give to this appeal going to get?

Incorporating GAME into every appeal strategy meeting gives you a great start to building a successful package.

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