direct mail fundraising: sorta dead

OK . . . so maybe the USPS isn’t quite dead yet, but it’s not getting better either.

To solve a $15.9 Billion shortfall (yes, that’s $15.9 billion) last year alone, our USPS announced it intends to cut $2 billion in expenses by eliminating deliveries on Saturday.

We’ve already seen a raise in postage in 2013 — this after closing nearly half of its distribution and processing centers last year, with plans to close over a thousand additional post offices around the country. (I’m sure you’ve noticed the better service already ).

And now, to generate new income and boost its public image . . . introducing new and exciting USPS apparel for you to purchase! (Look out Brooks Bothers!) Sends shivers down the spine of all direct mailers!

So here are three things NOT to do and six things you should be doing. Now . . . Immediately . . . YESTERDAY.

Don’t do these three things:

1. Do NOT jettison your direct mail for online giving. Not yet. Remember, direct mail still works and often provides more income than online giving (although we have one client that probably will change that this year!). And it is still the number one driver of people who give online. If you’re like 95% of the established NPO’s out there, direct mail is still a significant source of your revenue. Don’t give it up simply because it’s getting more expensive — don’t kill your golden goose until you have a better goose or your goose will be cooked. (OK it’s a bit corny, but it’s true). Instead, mail smarter. (See #5 below) NOTE: If you’re one of the growing number of start-up NPOs or small ministries following us, there are a whole different set of rules about direct mail for you. Stay tuned.

2. Do NOT buy into useless rules of thumb. There are so many variables on the fundraising landscape today that you need to nicely toss anyone who is quoting national rules of thumb out of your office. Sure there are averages. Yep, there are trends. But unless you are a national ministry, national rules of thumb are not helpful. If you are local or regional, that’s only the baseline on what you need to know.

3. Do NOT grasp at straws. Adding a new line of apparel bearing your logo may be cool, but I’m thinking it’s not going to raise a lot of revenue. Yes, it’s time to shift to a new paradigm, but let’s make sure we’re looking at new ideas and models rationally (see #5 below) and not out of fear (or because the board chair’s nephew has a new multi-level marketing opportunity).

The six things you need to be doing – NOW – are these:

1. Do make sure every direct mail piece you send is directing people to your website to make a gift. And I don’t mean just mentioning your website. I mean really pushing your donors to make an online gift site so they become increasingly used to this type of transaction. In a recent impact for a client, we found that pushing donors to give online not only increased online giving, it increased checks in the mail as well!

2. Do make sure your website is engaging, current, and evolving. The more interesting the interaction your donors and prospective donors have on your webpage, the greater the chance for gifts, repeat gifts, and return visits. You want your website to interesting and helpful to them… so they want to go there.

3. Do push automated giving. Push it now! If you don’t already have recurring gift program, set it up today. Now! Monthly giving programs that are maintained and nurtured have astonding returns on investment. Plus many of your donors will love giving that way. Promote your plan in gift receipts and online. Give your donors opportunities for recurring credit cards, EFT and electronic checks. Once you get them signed up you should continue to build the relationship.

4. Do invest in social media. And do it now! If you aren’t doing it already, begin today. Now! (If this sounds familiar, it’s because I can’t say it enough). 3 out of 4 Americans use Social Media (Forrester, The Growth Of Social Technology Adoption, 2008). That’s 75% gang. Do you really want to miss out on an opportunity to connect with that many people? Certainly, social media isn’t the only way to communicate with them, but if people who could be your donors and supporters are using a communications tool, you really need use it, too. You wouldn’t ignore email or phone contacts just because you didn’t “need” it would you? The coming death of mail is ushering in the “age of engage” (maybe it’s the other way around, isn’t it?). So it’s time to jump aboard here.

5. Do invest in analytics — Analytics are priceless. Instead of learning what is happening all over the country, find out what is happening with your donors. The story is right there in your data. Dig around. Get someone who knows what they’re doing to kick over the rocks. Get a second opinion on what is happening to your fundraising. What we’ve seen repeatedly is that it is possible to mail fewer pieces and receive more income (net income!). And we’re seeing exciting results in social media using these analytics as well. It’s all happening out there and it is within reach of more and more smaller ministries.

6. Analytics must ALWAYS drive strategy. Sorry to be repeating myself, but the fact remains that strategies – including new, untried tactics and tools — divorced from analytics is guessing. And guessing is like flying an airplane into a fog bank without instruments. I don’t want to be on that plane. You don’t want to build your organization on anyone’s guess.

To put something in the in the mail now, to develop new strategies, to increase revenue in today’s market you have to be even more wise than before. Mail is an expensive tool that requires sophisticated strategies for success. Figure out how to mail the right people at the right times and you’ll discover that although nearly dead, direct mail can behave quite nicely for you.

So, talk to me . . . what’s your direct mail story? I always love to hear from you.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: macinate)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

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