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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?

Is Direct Mail Dead?

Improving the Successful Campaign

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?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Is Direct Mail Dead?

So Much Time and So Little To Do!

My Director Will Never Go For That

How Has Event Management Changed For You?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

While many aspects of events have changed in recent years, one remains consistent: the first order of business is to determine if your event’s purpose is to raise funds, awareness or both.  Spend your resources toward the goal(s) and make it clear.

The term awareness is deliberate, because if your event is primarily conducted for fundraising purposes, then you should be seeking to get as much publicity for your event as possible – before, during and after the event.  Since events’ costs are so high and the ROI is so low in comparison to nearly all other ways to raise money, they wouldn’t be worth doing if not for the other benefits of networking, cultivation and publicity.  Be certain that you make the most of these.

Gone are the days when this meant hoping that local television or newspaper coverage would arrive . . . and if they didn’t, the organization was out of luck.  Although such media coverage is not to be snubbed, there are many other alternatives within a nonprofit’s control with the plethora of social media channels.

Any organization that maintains regular contact with its followers will be able to encourage people across several channels to attend an upcoming event, particularly if those followers are encouraged to spread the word as well.  Online registration and other methods that allow for easy participation (e.g., e-tickets, pre-printed maps, [Share buttons], etc.) will facilitate additional participation and publicity.

After the event, immediate sharing of photos, videos and/or interviews of participants or speakers, etc., to various social media sites will not only remind attendees of their enjoyable time, but again, encourage them to share the memories with others – and donate.  Portraying as many participants as possible shows how your organization welcomes its constituents and will make others want to be included next time as well.

(Note: One thing to keep in mind that has changed is the very public nature of sharing people’s photos online.  Make certain that you get permission to publicly post the photos/videos – especially of children.  This can be as easy as incorporating it in a checkbox during ticket sales, or when signing in at the event.)

Those organizations that are availing themselves of newer technologies and incorporating them into their events are seeing a good response and increased participation, even if it is while hanging on to a more traditional event overall.  One might not consider the incorporation of smart phones as a tour guide to Central Park, but it became an integral part and introduced many people to QR codes last Arbor Day.

In addition to using technology, more nonprofits are realizing that not all events need to be solely for the purpose of raising funds, and are better served as cultivation events for the target market to get to know the organization more than they currently do.  This is especially true for nonprofits that are seeing their larger donors skewing older and fewer, and not nearly enough younger donors stepping up to fill the void.

Smaller nonprofits that have fallen short of goal more drastically have often been more versatile at trying new approaches to campaigns, such as Giving Days, with great success, by accommodating donors’ needs for convenience and accountability in one location.  Giving Days have also been very helpful in attracting newer and younger donors to nonprofits.

It’s essential to continue to cultivate new donors when acquired through these various events and other means, however.  Too often, an organization will take advantage of its donors, though, either by only contacting them when asking for money, or perhaps holding too many events and achieving burnout, from the staff, the donors, or both.

Always keep in mind how you portray your organization to your constituents and the general public at large.  What you don’t want is to have a previously successful event turn sour, with your organization in the middle of it as the villain.  (There is such a thing as bad publicity!)

Sometimes, however, one person’s bad publicity can be another organization’s successful fundraiser, so it’s all in your perspective.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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How Many Kinds of Phonathon Are There?

I’ll Do Anything EXCEPT Ask People For Money

Who Has Time For Games, Anyway?

Speak To Your Audience

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

I always have a great time at the NTEN & AFP conferences, catching up with old friends and making new ones, as well as learning new techniques I can apply in my job. I was shocked at what I saw, though, at one of the vendor booths at NTEN:

Like many of the vendors, PayPal was trying to entice visitors to their booth with a giveaway. People who entered the drawing had a chance to win a Nook. Many electronic devices were being awarded at the NTEN conference: iPads, Kindles, etc. Experienced attendees always bring many business cards for these drawings.

But how was PayPal – the company promoting online fundraising – accepting entries? Not with a business card, but with a paper questionnaire! (click to make larger)

Complete this survey for a chance to win 1 of 3 Nook e-readers.  Winners will be notified at the phone number that you provide below.

I asked one gentleman who was at the booth why a company that makes its living selling online commerce would operate in such a fashion and how they expected to compete with all the other vendors who were offering giveaways without requiring this much effort on the part of the conference attendees.

He shrugged and explained that he didn’t actually work for PayPal, but was just “helping out” for the day.

A couple of aisles later, I saw another vendor that was working to meet the needs of a busy attendee . . . on their terms:  The Chronicle of Philanthropy

In addition to providing free paper copies of the Chronicle, they were offering free sign up for people to subscribe to issues online, with the screen facing passersby, so that they could create an account immediately:

It makes a great deal of difference to your constituency how you engage them, and how much you ask of them. Prizes are nice, of course, but most of us left each conference without a new iPad – and will unsubscribe to all of the new emails we’ll be getting . . . unless they provide value and convenience to our lives.

The AFP conference in Chicago was held at McCormick Place, which is akin to a large airport! LOTS of walking is necessary to get from one session to another. Even the convention center itself has moved with the times to try to provide service that is convenient to its customers. I noticed this sign in a women’s restroom:

McCormick Cares   Please text the "Keyword" below: MCE3504F  followed by any Restroom needs to 69050

What can you do to keep your finger on the pulse of your constituent base? Have you been measuring your areas of growth, so you can address them and meet those needs? Online giving has increased in nearly all sectors, for example.

Mobile giving and texting are going to show explosive growth in the next year. While smart phones are currently only 13% of handhelds, they account for 78% of the handheld traffic. Does this impact how you might alter your strategy? Would you consider adding a graphic like the one below to your next direct mail appeal, for example?

QR codes are becoming very useful for a variety of things. You can search for a (free) QR code app on your smart phone to decode the one above, and if you wish to create a code of your own, it’s very easy. The code can translate into a word, phrase, phone number, hyperlink, or sms – and be in various sizes. Give it a try!

Just as with any new venture, the response rate will be smaller and slower than something already being done, but the segment of your population that uses this venue will appreciate your catering to them – and they will grow with you over time.  They will also remember who responded to their needs earliest.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

So Much Time And So Little To Do!

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

…Strike That – Reverse It!” Words made immortal by Willy Wonka (the real one), which come to mind often for those in Annual Giving, who have more and more added to our plate every day, it seems. What does a complete campaign look like, anyway?

Everyone knows that If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting – and who wants that? No, we must keep our current donors, of course, but add some sizzle and pop to the mix as well . . . only what does that mean, exactly?

Direct Mail
Ok, even though it’s an old standby, people are still responding to mail. It’s most likely a hefty portion of your budgetary income, so A/B testing is good. It’s also important to have a good tagline and place a meaningful hyperlink with all mail appeals, since integrated campaigns perform better overall.

Special Events
Even events aren’t the same any longer. Few invitations are simply sent via mail with confirmations or RSVPs over the phone. Now, in addition to email, events are posted on Facebook pages, Evite, Twitter, etc. In fact, some organizations are getting creative and tweeting their events as they are happening – and not just the people with smart phones! What other spin can make your event(s) fresh, new and exciting? Where’s the video camera?

Video
Storytelling with video is more important than ever now. A compelling narrative with video is a medium like no other, and your organization needs to keep up by joining in. Michael Hoffman points out, however, that another crucial element is the YouTube Nonprofit program, so that clickable links can be added at the end of a message. Have you gotten your account yet, so that you can embed these links in your YouTube videos? Also, what about Vimeo, Funny or Die and other channels? YouTube isn’t the only video space on the web – where are your constituents?

Email Marketing & Online Giving
Like direct mail, email has become an essential tool that isn’t dead, but needs revamping to keep up. Have you added photos and links to videos, as well as your Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. channels, so that email recipients can connect with you as they wish? Are these buttons also visible on your website template, too, so that regardless of one’s browsing, a constituent can easily find your social media channels? What about a [share] button? Do you monitor your click through rates on your email campaigns?

Analytics
There are many more analytics online to monitor than just who opens your emails and acts on them. Have you been monitoring your search terms, so that your site design offers what people most frequently want? Do you have a Google Analytics account, so that you know the details of your site traffic, once people land, how many pages they visit, how often they stay, etc.? And what about your offline stats? How much analysis do you do regarding direct mail (acquisition, renewal, lapsed, etc.), events, and so forth?

Phonathon
The nature of phonathon has changed, but many nonprofits are still making money by conducting them on a regular basis, and adapting them to their specific circumstances. Others are finding them to be more and more obsolete, however, as their donor base is abandoning land lines in greater numbers and are seeking a better way to connect with these high tech potential supporters.

Mobile
There is no question that connecting with constituents via mobile is the wave of the future – not only for solicitation, but for text messaging and many other uses. Projections predict that the first decade of mobile giving fundraising will surpass that of online giving. Mobile can also facilitate sending tweets or other short messages that notify members of recent legislation, ask for event RSVPs, or simply send people to a specific page of importance on your website. Some predictions see smart phones replacing wallets in the next several years, so communication via mobile will be an essential part of your organization’s strategy. Oh, and then there are QR codes. A whole other world of new and fun applications. Just imagine what you could do with them at an event!

Podcasts
Perhaps you’ve listened to or created podcasts for your organization. Now you can create them on the go, using a smart phone, and integrate them with social media, so that they appear with a photo and on your Twitter and/or Facebook feed. How can you apply short, medium or longer podcasts to your campaign so they are of interest to your constituents?

Facebook
We all know Facebook is a must in the social media realm. If only they wouldn’t keep changing their rules and policies every month or two . . . not to mention the very design of the page itself. (Am I logged in as myself or the administrator??) Analytics can help here, too, to know what, when and how to post to Facebook.

Twitter
Perhaps you haven’t yet delved into the micro-blogging world of Twitter. Well, jump in and learn all about hashtags, following and retweeting! Don’t fool yourself into thinking that only one demographic is participating, or that your people aren’t there – they are! Details on how to do it well are useful, of course, but everyone is on a learning curve at first. You’ll learn best by doing it.

Blogging
Studies have shown that one of the best ways to drive traffic to your website is by blogging – providing useful, relevant content to your followers on a regular basis. One of the biggest mistakes that most new bloggers make, however, is not following through with a schedule once they get started blogging. Whether you’re going to blog weekly, monthly or bi-monthly, announce it and stick to it, so that you will build a loyal readership that knows they can count on viewing your content on a regular basis. (Of course, Seth Godin recommends blogging on a daily basis. Why argue with him?)

There are several other items on your to do list, of course: LinkedIn, Delicious, Foursquare, recruiting and training your board members to be better solicitors – not to mention your own training. (You do have your CFRE, don’t you?) In your spare time, you’ll need to meet several donors face to face and get out a few grant proposals, too.

By the way, will I see you at NTEN or AFP this month? No? Why not?

Well, there are online training events . . .

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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