May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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To Institute a Direct Mail Program or Not?

Is your mailbox bombarded by nonprofits soliciting your fundraising dollars? Your mailbox is likely overflowing, especially at this time of the year. What you are getting is politely known as “junk mail.” Yet, it persists, and some feel is growing exponentially. If you are a nonprofit organization, and have not done direct mail solicitations to the masses, you must ask yourself, “Do I start a direct mail program or not?”

The simple answer for some is “You’ve got to be in it to win it.” Not so fast. My column may shake reality into those first considering this option.

Negev Direct Marketing is one of the largest direct mail providers to Jewish nonprofit organizations. In a recent blog, Yoav Kaufman, one of the principals, indicated an interesting fact, “92% of millennials say they are more influenced by direct mail than any other form of marketing. Couple that with the fact that 81% of all consumers say they read or at least scan direct mail…” That’s the good news.

Consider the following. There are many nonprofits in the U.S. that rely heavily on fundraising dollars generated by direct mail programs. These include, but are not limited to, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, March of Dimes, Easter Seals and the list goes on. These nonprofits have a long and successful track record using direct mail. Studies show that many older donors look forward to these mailings and often feel as if each letter is personally addressed. This is not “junk mail” in their world. It is staying in touch with “family” and they would miss the connection if the chain was broken.

I predict that, in time, the Millennial generation will change today’s mail dynamic. Millennials compose only 20 percent of philanthropic donations today, whereas 80 percent of gifts stem from the baby boomer generation or older. Baby boomers are used to seeing junk mail in their mailboxes. Let’s talk again in 10-15 years and I suspect things will change.

There are many pros and cons about starting a direct mail program. What is compelling is this reality: Most startup direct mail programs lose money. The national response rate for direct mail is grim. Responses generally range between 1 percent and 3 percent. Ouch! You mean folks don’t care about what you have to say and ignore your pleas for support? That’s right. But, if you want to look at the glass being half full, then consider that 1-3 percent heard you and responded affirmatively. Well, maybe not half full.

You may have read that many major nonprofits make millions on their mailings. True. However, they have long and consistent track records with successful campaigns. They also have a finely hewn mail program that came about after years of tried and tested experience. A new startup campaign is usually not so lucky. But, I digress. Luck really has nothing to do with it.

What variables should a nonprofit consider? You may wish to talk to a direct mail expert. It is a specialized industry and consultants are easily found in professional literature such as The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Here are just some of the issues:

  1. Volume—how many total units are you mailing?
  2. Number of pieces in the mailing, such as a four-piece mailing—cover letter, mailing envelope, return envelope (commonly known as a BRE) and an insert such as a pledge card.
  3. Sizes of all pieces.
  4. Is there a premium or giveaway included such as a calendar, mailing labels or a pen?
  5. Postage—first class or bulk mail?
  6.  Mailing list—is it up to date?
  7. Will you need rental lists?
  8.  Will you need a fulfillment house to process the mailing or do you have a volunteer corps to do it?
  9. Are you registered to conduct charitable solicitations in other states?

There are many other variables to consider, including when to mail, themes, complementary and simultaneous web campaigns to run, securing new donors or new acquisitions, retaining current donors and bringing back lapsed donors and here is the most important—the message. My goodness. The list is endless. Are you sure you want to do this?

A direct mail campaign requires nerves of steel, skill and a determination to succeed despite the odds. Are you ready to invade your neighbors’ mailbox?

By Norman B. Gildin

Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. He is the national director of The Aleph Institute with headquarters in Miami, Florida. A resident of Teaneck for 34 years, he now resides in Boynton Beach, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

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