Tag Archives: Direct Mail

Ensuring Your Direct Mail Gets Opened

While listening to Tom Ahern’s conversation in 100 Donors in 90 Days, he mentioned that he thought most donors who receive direct mail pieces are 70-80% for or against a potential donation before they read your letter. I decided to conduct a focus group on myself by considering recent pieces that I have received. And I discovered that he might be onto something when it comes to ensuring your direct mail gets opened.

When I get a bunch of direct mail, I collect one stack of envelopes that go straight into recycling. Then, there are some that I open because they have return address labels or a nickel attached (I can’t throw away money, can I?) but the rest of the contents end up in the paper bin. And then, there is the pile that I open because I am interested in the charity. These letters, I read as a potential donor and as a fundraising professional who appreciates a good letter (and saves the best in a file in my office). Opening the envelope does not guarantee that I am ready to make a gift today or that I will even give to the charity but it does mean in my mind that I am considering the donation.

So how does that translate into ensuring your envelopes get opened?

Track your statistics.

Most organizations keep records of the response rate for direct mail pieces. But, not everyone goes back to see which “packages” received the highest or lowest response rate and to determine what works best for your nonprofit. Print out the last few years of letters and see what you can uncover to market to your specific audience.

Write an amazing letter.

Maybe everyone tries to write an amazing letter.  But a lot of people are just getting something out by a deadline.  That 70-80% chance will improve when you answer the questions as to why I should give to you, why I should give now, and why I, the reader, am special to this organization (Tom Ahern gives a lot of great suggestions). But, it will jump dramatically higher when it is written in a way that makes me smile, sniffle, nod my head or respond in some personal way. Because that means the letter solidified the connection and reminded me of why I should be giving to the organization.

You can learn the language of direct mail from books, webinars or consultants. But, if your nonprofit is as unique as you hope it is, then your letters should be original and the focus of a my potential gift should jump off the page.

Consider your lists carefully.

Response rates on purchased lists are incredibly low (Tom mentioned that he has found the current average to be ¼ of a percent). That is, usually, hard to justify for a small or mid-size agency. A large agency might consider it, but it hardly seems efficient or highly effective.

Instead, gather information from anyone and everyone who comes through your doors, comes to your website, or engages in your social media campaigns. Use traditional tactics like raffles and information sign up sheets, current trends like incentives to “like” you on Facebook or follow you on twitter and personal connections like asking guests at an event to fill out a card or volunteer interest form. Any list you create from people already connected with your agency will improve your response rates dramatically.

Figuring out your best strategy is not always easy, but once you do, improving your financial results will be a piece of cake.

To learn more about 100 Donors in 90 Days click here.

Do Your Donors Consider Themselves Members or Contributors?

For many organizations, membership comes with a defined set of benefits.  But if you consider last week’s challenge about keeping language inclusive (Challenge: Is Your Nonprofit Inclusive or Exclusive?), maybe you should be helping your contributors feel like members of your community – even if they are not “official” members of your organization.

Why some organizations want fewer members and more contributors
I have met with organizations that would prefer large donors consider themselves as contributors and not members reaping benefits, but this may not be the smartest line of thinking.  You want each donor – large and small – to appreciate the intricacies of the organization.  A member is on the inside of the organization – a very inclusive mentality.  And, if they appreciate the benefits, they will understand why it is so important to grow their support so that many others can also feel this way.

Social media can help
Who doesn’t want to become a friend or be linkedin to someone? Well you might be cautious about how may nonprofits or organizations you accept on Facebook as a “friend” or connect to someone on LinkedIn – I know I am – but when I agree to publically align myself with your organization you have the perfect opportunity to help me feel like I am an essential part of the organization through posts, tweets, special opportunities, etc. An easy way to help donors consider themselves on the inside.

Inclusive Language Primer
Sometimes we all need a bit of a reminder that certain ways of stating something can make people feel like they are already part of the party.  Of course, “we,” “us” “our” are obvious insertions but consider how you wrote your last direct mail piece.  Instead of: Join me in making a gift to Nonprofit X.  Consider, “We can join together to make an impact at our favorite organization – Nonprofit X.” Minor changes?  Yes.  But maybe a minor change is all you need to help someone want to strengthen their relationship with you.

Get Your Direct Mail Appeal Read

Nonprofit recycling binAh, December.  If a donor has been considering giving to an organization, the tax benefits are often enough of a reason to give in December.  But, the donor may have been asked – in person and via mail – by many organizations.  The real question is, will you be front of mind when that impulse to give occurs.

Or, put another way, how do you make sure your letter doesn’t make it into the recycling bin within minutes?  Consider the other reasons that donors give.

Your Mission: Do you appeal to the donor because of your mission?  Have you clearly expressed what your mission is and what you do to achieve your goals?  Does each potential donor know who benefits from your work and can you prove that you have had success on both a small and large scale?

Trust: Have you spent the previous year instilling confidence in your organization?  Is there faith in the staff, the board, the volunteers?  Do donors understand that their money will be invested with care and control?  Is there an understanding that the future of the organization is secure and that their money is well spent?

The Ask: Is your letter well crafted?  Is there an easy response mechanism? Does the ask continue the momentum of clearly expressing your mission and instilling trust?

The Law of Averages: According to the Direct Marking Association, the average response rate for letter-sized envelopes is around 3.42 percent.  Email fundraising response rates were, unsurprisingly lower at .13%, but that does not include the number of people that use the email as a reminder to put their check in the mail.   How many do you need to send out to get your critical mass?  How can you organically increase your list?  Buying a list for this purpose will not, in all likelihood, get you future major donors and all too often a $10 donor can cost you more than that in future years.

The truth is, a 3.42% return is not likely to change your bottom line but those are an ideal pool of names for you to analyze and determine whether you should get to know those donors a lot better.  Turning 100% of 3.42% into major donors can alter your financial picture.  Maybe even by next December.

How Do I Tell a Donor What to Give?

Very carefully!Determining donations image

Well, “tell” may be the wrong word, but you definitely can suggest what to give. High-level donors expect to be given details about the project, the monetary goals, and how the donor can make an impact with their donation. In fact, at every level, donors will often give more – and happily give more- if he or she is helped to understand what dollar amount would help.

Almost everyone appreciates guidance from an expert. And, when you are the solicitor, you are a consultant to the prospect and you are there to help him/her/them make a good decision about their next philanthropic investment.

Let’s examine this from a more personal perspective. Think for a minute to the last solicitation to which you responded. Perhaps it was a direct mail piece or an email from one of your favorite organizations. You had planned on giving and this seemed like a good time for the organization so you responded for their call to “give what you can” and zipped off your check for $50, $100, maybe even $500. But what if when they had originally contacted you, they explained the full scope of the project, why your participation was so important for the organization and truly made you feel as if without you the organization would not be able to fulfill its mission. After acknowledging your past generosity they asked if you could double your donation this year. It would help them achieve their lofty, but attainable goals. Would you have doubled your check? Would you have given them the $100? What if they had asked for $500 but they would be happy to have you spread it out over a 5-year period allowing an easier payment for you and a steady cash flow for them. You are left with the feeling that you are really helping and they have a promise from you for 5 years. Not bad, huh?

The idea of “giving what you can” sounds nice in theory, but in practice leaves most people relatively unsatisfied. Left to their own devices, donors will rarely give what they “can” give, they will give what they are comfortable with when they first think about it. But if you suggest a specific dollar amount and you show them how it would help, you are showing your donors a way to feel that they can make a difference for your organization. And just imagine if you could double each of your donors’ contributions…

Major gifts level donors

Your donors who contribute at the major gifts level—whatever that might mean for your organization—expect to be provided with guidance as to the amount of the gift you have in mind. But this concept is often hard for staff and board members to grasp when the amount is $10,000, $100,000, even $1,000,000. These amounts may seem like a lot to you, but if you have correctly determined the gift rating, you will not have been the first organization to approach your valued donors at this level. Remember, if you don’t ask for it, someone else will.

Let them say no

You’re still not sure if you can ask that couple for that much. There are so many reasons they might say no – “They’ve already given $500,000 to an arts organization this year.” “She has just started to come to events, she’s not hooked in enough yet.” “He turned us down 3 years ago when we were looking to do renovations.” All of these statements may be true, but don’t say no for the donor – they are fully capable of saying no for themselves. And if you say no, you won’t have the chance to hear the yes.

The all important ask

Before you ask, make sure you have:

  1. correctly evaluated each donor and defined the donor’s capacity to give;
  2. determined a large, but reasonable suggested amount as the rating.
  3. prepared to explain the overall campaign as well as how the donor’s gift fits into the overall campaign; and

This may not guarantee success, but it will ensure they take your request seriously and that, in itself, will enhance the possibility of success.
Need more convincing? Hiring from within will have a positive ripple effect throughout your organization. It boosts moral, loyalty, offers higher job satisfaction –which in turn lowers turnover– and reduces costs. The cost of a new hire is much greater than providing training to a current staff member.