Mailing lists. The key here is to understand that direct mail is a very specific medium and is not happily used by everyone. Even amongst the trustees of any charity using direct mail there will be some who say “ I just throw it straight in the bin”. So the key in choosing mailing lists is to get lists of people whose first proven characteristic is that they like transacting by direct mail. Next, ensure that the list is of people who have used direct mail recently as a recent user will be more responsive to further approaches than a non-recent user. So a sensible request to a list broker might ask for “multi buyers ( ie more than one transaction) of mail order merchandise with a minimum value of £10 with the most recent purchase being made in the last 12 months”. Use only this category of list before moving on to inferior lists of people who conform to a ‘profile’ of the charity donor, but are not proven recent direct mail users.
To give added statistical validity to a test of the potential of direct mail for any charity, it makes sense to use larger rather than smaller numbers of names from each list used. Most practitioners agree that 5000 names per list gives a result that has a reasonable probability of being repeated when more names from that list are chosen.
Lists are rented, not purchased. This means that only one use of most rented mailing lists is allowed. Usually, use must take place within an agreed time.
Designing and writing a mailing. The first step to designing and writing a mailing is to ask colleagues at your charity to save up all the charity mailings they receive. Analyse these and adopt the style and format which seems to fit the image of your own charity. Usually, though, you will want your mailing to include a letter, some photographic element (such as a brief leaflet or photo with notes on the reverse), a reply form and a reply paid envelope.
Having found a format which suits your cause, apply the following rules:
- Make sure the reader instantly knows that the envelope contains a charity appeal
- Reduce the main point of the appeal to one simple, clear proposition which tells the reader about the need, the proposed solution and the price all in one sentence. ( “Make a blind person see for just £12” is a good example). Put this statement on the letter before the letter text begins. It is very important to state a price.
- Always include a letter. 2 sides of A4 is enough. One side is not usually enough to provide sufficient information to persuade a donor to reply.
- Provide a separate or easily detachable reply form which re-states the proposition and price. Give a range of suggested donation amounts. Ensure the reply slip has all the legally required Data Protection wording and includes an opportunity for the donor to make a Gift Aid declaration.
- Provide a post paid reply envelope, addressed back to the letter signatory.
If it is clear that your letter is a charity appeal and both the need your charity is addressing and proposed solution to that need are clear, and the price is reasonable, your mailing will have all the structural elements needed for success. It is then down to the recipient to decide if he or she wants to support your cause. Naturally, some types of cause command greater support than others and some are a better ‘fit’ with the medium of direct mail than others.
Sourcing printing and mailing. You will need to source outer and reply envelopes, printing of enclosures, addressing, enclosing and mailing. Although almost any local stationery printer can supply the envelopes and printed items, it will save cost and a lot of time to use a specialist direct mail printer/mailing house who can do the whole job under one roof, or at least manage the whole process even if they subcontract some parts of it. Expect to pay a total of £0.60 – £0.70 per letter in total from a supplier with a reputation for quality.
Analysing results. The key elements of performance you are interested in are the % response rate, the average amount sent by donors ( called from now on the ‘average gift’), any especially high gifts ( ie more than £250 ) and the % of responses which opt out of future contact by direct mail. Create a chart which records all of these items of data on a daily basis as replies to your appeal come in. Eight weeks from the start of the campaign most responses will have been received and you will be in a position to provide a complete campaign analysis. If the total income from the campaign is less than 50% of the total cost of printing and mailing the letters ( ie excluding any costs associated with design, writing and artwork), it is doubtful if you have a viable basis for continuing with the letter format and list selection you have used in the test.
Getting tired of your same old fundraising messages? Before you let your boredom drive you to change everything, read this post at Copyblogger: How Your Prospect’s Brain Becomes Your Secret Persuasion Partner.
The key point is that repetition is necessary for recognition. The human mind is keyed to pay attention to repeated messages:
Some experts say that it takes a minimum of 7 to 9 impressions for direct mail to make an impact on you, and it can take up to 56 times for an ad to enter your conscious awareness…. When you’re getting bored with your message, when you feel the urge to shake things up just to do something different, resist. Don’t throw it out just when it’s starting to work.
The downfall of many fundraising programs is that they change too often. They never build up that bank of recognition, because their creators get bored of repetition before most of the audience even starts to notice the message at all.
So keep the message consistent. Make sure you ride the response curve all the way to the top. Typically, it will eventually turn downward. That’s when you change the message.
Not when it starts to feel old to you.
Wonder why it’s such a struggle to get young donors? A couple of studies done at UC Berkeley offer some intriguing explanations for the problem. Press release: Emotional intelligence peaks as we enter our 60s, research suggests.
Two different studies support the theory that “emotional intelligence and cognitive skills can actually sharpen as we enter our 60s.” Findings included:
- Older people … were the best at reinterpreting negative scenes in positive ways using positive reappraisal, a coping mechanism that draws heavily on life experience and lessons learned.
- … younger and middle-aged participants were better at using “detached appraisal” to tune out and divert attention away from the unpleasant….
- “In late life, individuals often become increasingly sensitized to sadness because the shared experience of sadness leads to greater intimacy in interpersonal relationships.”
All these things bode well for charitable giving. Thank about it: Who’s more likely to give — someone who interprets a negative situation as an opportunity to make something good happen, or someone who tunes it out? Who is more likely to act compassionately and generously — someone who feels that sadness of a bad situation, or someone who doesn’t?
That doesn’t mean younger people don’t give. It just points out something experienced fundraisers already know: Older people are just more primed to give than younger people. The neurological cards are stacked against you if you’re looking for young donors.
Thanks to queer ideas for the tip.
One of the most significant and vexing changes that’s rippling through our industry is the way donors respond to our fundraising.
They just aren’t cooperating! Used to be if we sent them mail, they responded in the mail. Increasingly, they cross our neat little boundaries, responding in ways of their choosing — which can really screw up our attempts to measure fundraising.
That’s the important point raised by my former colleague Bill Jacobs wrote recently at the Grizzard Blog: Moving Beyond Sola Directa Maila.
Direct mail is still motivating gifts — lots of research to support this — but less and less of those gifts are coming through the direct mail. Yet we are still evaluating direct mail performance by gifts coming through the direct mail. And that is no longer useful.
Most organizations are experience a real jump in white mail (gifts coming in that aren’t obviously attributed to any source)
This is probably part of the reason for the industry-wide drop in response rates. A lot of the responses we’re losing are just moving to other places, and we haven’t figured out how to measure them.
So as more donors respond to direct mail they’ve received by online bill-pay or through the “wrong” medium, our measurement of our fundraising efforts is getting more out of whack with reality.
We need to figure out new ways to measure these responses. Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of bad decisions about our fundraising.