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Direct Mail in 2012 Must Step Up!

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Although year-end mail is always slow, 2011 saw the USPS give new meaning to the word! This was an eye opener for savvy nonprofit mailers who realize that a reckoning day is coming, and that the time to reassess mail campaigns is now.

There’s little question that the post office is headed for some drastic changes, although due to its being stymied in bureaucracy, it may take a while for the deepest of the cuts to be felt.  It seems certain, however, that the results the postal customer will ultimately feel will be twofold:  less service and higher prices.

If we’re going to get less and pay more, why do it?  Well, simply because for most nonprofits, the lion’s share of annual giving income still comes from direct mail, although this slice of the pie isn’t as large as it used to be . . . and it costs more to produce.

Whenever your ROI is affected this drastically (or is about to be), it’s vital to evaluate your overall campaign, to see which areas can be modified, streamlined, combined, improved – or simply need to be eliminated.  Several nonprofits that have strong direct mail programs have done precisely this, and discovered that one of their best tactics is a multichannel approach.  In addition, some have discovered that more resources are best diverted to direct mail for acquisition, while online appeals are successful for retention.

Since it’s unrealistic to eliminate direct mail from your budget or campaign, it’s smarter planning to consider a multitude of factors and be more strategic:

Take care that your database is as accurate and as up to date as possible. The better your data is, the more precise your campaigns are, the lower your costs, and the fewer returned pieces, wasted staff time, etc.

•     Consider sending out smaller, more frequent, segmented mailings. This will take additional time – both to pull the targeted data, as well as to craft the appeals, but it will make your donors/prospects feel special, whether you group them by geography or affinity for a particular type of fund, cause, etc.

•     Schedule your direct mail campaigns sooner than you previously did. Expect delivery to take longer than it has in the past.  Much longer.  This isn’t going to improve.

•     Budget for more direct mail expenses, if possible.  Postage will likely continue to increase, and with other services costing more (e.g., NCOA), this is simply pragmatic.

•     Make certain your appeals are both engaging and get down to business. If your letter is a solicitation, it still has to be interesting, of course, but the ask shouldn’t be buried in paragraph six, either.  Get to the point.

•     Integrate a multichannel approach. Include a direct hyperlink for your call to action (e.g., donation, registration, petition, etc.) on all pieces in the mailing:  letter, reply card, reply envelope, inserts, flyers, etc.  Remember to add a Twitter and Facebook icon and/or hyperlink as well, and QR codes when applicable.  Since a QR code is versatile, it can link to a video, provide a coupon code, or other venue, depending on your campaign.

•     Remember the carrier envelope is the most important, not an afterthought. Mail is typically opened over a trash can, so if your carrier envelope isn’t designed with at least the thought put into your letter, you have drastically reduced the chances of your letter ever getting read.

•     Test at least one variable with each mailing. This can be something as simple as including postage – or not – on your reply envelope, or addressing your carrier envelope on the back instead of the front.  Does a photo on your carrier make a difference, and if it does, do you need to pay for a color photo, or will a black and white one result in essentially the same response rate and average gift?  Perhaps a freemium boosts your average gift or response with an acquisition mailing, but it’s unnecessary when soliciting current donors.

•     Your opinion doesn’t matter! Make sure to track and analyze your data after each campaign.  Just because you personally prefer the bright green font doesn’t mean that it has the best response rate from your constituency.  Until you have several bundles of data from your own organization, a good place to start can be checking sources such as Which Test Won? which gathers and shares a great deal of data on both direct mail and online marketing.

•     Learn from your analyses. Take what worked well, and attempt to extrapolate upon your successes.  For the campaigns that performed poorly, either determine why and fix the errors, or eliminate them and substitute them with the strategies that are succeeding for your organization.  While you’ll probably find that much of what you’re doing follows industry standards, there may be some anomalies that are unique to your constituency.

•     Don’t be afraid to try something new. Annual Giving by its very nature can easily become cyclical and repetitive, and making goal is constantly on everyone’s mind, but great things can happen when you stretch outside your regular boundaries and dare to dream of a different way of doing things.

How can you make the most of what you’ve got – not just with mail, but all of your fundraising venues – and perhaps something new?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Should I Even Bother With Direct Mail Appeals Anymore?

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

It can be easy to be caught up with stories of new technological successes – along with recent press of old technology dying out – and conclude that direct mail should be eliminated from our campaigns, but that would be a mistake.

Perhaps your campaigns have dropped in the percentage of what direct mail has brought in over recent years, from 80% to 70% and now 60% or even half.  While this is certainly a substantial decrease, you still cannot afford to ignore a venue that brings in half of your campaign income!

On the other hand, clearly your donors are responding to other appeals, and additional methods must be added to your development efforts.  Tracking methods and analysis has never been more essential.  Segmentation is also crucial, because various audiences will prefer to be solicited and contacted by different means.  Some people might find being contacted on their cell phones an invasion of privacy, while others view it as the only means of communication, and if you want to reach them, you’d better learn to text and tweet!  (Can you store this detailed type of “do not contact” differentiation in your database?)

Even direct mail itself needs a makeover for most organizations.  If you’re like me, you try to get on as many mailing lists as possible, so that you can review what other companies and nonprofits are mailing, to compare.  I keep the very, very good – and the very, very bad – as examples of what to emulate and what never to do.  Unfortunately, the “what never to do” pile is always larger of the two.  The “ho hum” in-between pile is largest of all and ends up in recycling.

Direct mail can – and should – incorporate a great deal of new technology into its appeals these days.  For example, if the appeal is asking for a donation, add a specific hyperlink in the letter, reply card and on the return envelope, so that you are encouraging online giving.  Make the redirect meaningful and memorable, and either related to the campaign, mission or organization.  (e.g. company.org/donate)  Also be sure it is trackable to the specific appeal – and that it lands on the donation form, instead of requiring several more clicks on the donor’s part to locate it.

If the mailing is more related to a cause or petition, then the organization’s Facebook page or Twitter account should be highlighted more, in order to share or tweet the news being spread via the mailing.  Although the social media site(s) would be featured more prominently in these mailings, no doubt there would be a hyperlink to include as well.  The purpose of the mailing would determine which would be emphasized more.

QR codes are becoming more popular and used by the increasing number of smart phone owners all the time.  Many savvy mailers are adding them to mailings as well.  A QR code can represent a variety of things, including a slogan, photo, video, coupon, hyperlink – it really depends upon the purpose of the campaign.  They can also come in many different colors and designs, including custom designs, with embedded logos, to catch the eye.

Imagine sending direct mail recipients the ability to view your new PSA video with a custom QR code and a direct donation hyperlink, all in one letter, along with an invitation to join your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter!  Now that is a direct mail piece that is keeping up with the times! (Remember to repeat on the reply card and return envelope.)

And if you do send such an appeal in your year-end mailing, will you have the proper tracking tools in place to measure your success(es)?  What can you do between now and then to make that happen?

____________________________________________________________________________
Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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