Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mailbox Fundraising Rage

Fundraising is an amazing career. It truly is one of the best professions and callings one could ask for. But sometimes, fundraising behavior as it stands is hard to defend. I collected my mail for two weeks, the last week of November and the first week of December. What I found is indefensible. Please keep in mind I'm an online donor, having never written a check to a nonprofit, all of my gifts, including paying on my major gift pledges are online. Here's what my mailbox rage looks like.


Yup. That's 72 envelopes. They came in all shapes and sizes but out of the 72 I received 51 #10 envelopes with letters. Seriously? a #10 envelope?  

4 sets of address labels, shame shame, some even came with gift labels.
Then there's the really bad appeals from places you give once to and they'll never ask again- that's just not true and is a horrible way to represent our profession. 


It could be worse, you could have received this "fake" Christmas card with a big green ask in the middle, I call it the grinch of direct mail! 

And some folks have ignored some pretty important details, the reply devices weren't personalized at all- which made me think they didn't put any effort into their devices. I shouldn't have to rewrite my address and gift amount, it should already be printed on my form for me. Here's an example of one that missed the mark:
Instead, they could have already included my information and my last years of giving and where I gave like these folks did-


They did great at targeting my asks based on past giving- But these two, not so much. If my last gift is $25 where did $500 for an alumnus come from? I'm not an alumna! Or at UVA, my last gift, also $25 and the lowest amount they're asking me for is 10 times that amount! WOAH- Really? And the first ask is 100 times that amount! CRAZY!




What have you received in your mailbox? Can you understand why some of this behavior is indefensible? How can we encourage folks to do better at direct mail? Why do they ignore communication preferences of their donors? My recycling was a wasteland of BREs and CREs. And next week, we go deep diving into my email folder of solicitations. Join me!

What are your thoughts? How was your mailbox?


Cheers,
Lynne

16 comments:

  1. So here is the double edged sword of this all, Lynn. While I too find this infuriating as I am a 33 year old--I barely check my mail, let alone respond to it, in order to get quantities to scale for bulk buying, nonprofits need to include some donors who don't respond via mail, just to get numbers high enough. And while I get that this isn't ideal, we are nonprofits, and costs matter. If getting the letter in the mail reminds you that you've been meaning to give online, than I think this is good use of mail as well. I actually find the constant e-appeals to be way more offensive--there's literally no personalization or segmentation, and they send them as regularly as Banana Republic does which in both cases is too much. I want to make it a donor-centered experience, but I also recognize that unless we literally tell the nonprofit we only want to receive emails or mail, they don't know. If they ignore what you tell them (we take people off mailing lists, or code them as newsletter or email only all of the time once a donor tells us), than we are doing it all wrong, but unless we use our words, we can't assume they can follow what we don't articulate for thousands of donors.

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    1. Robin,
      I actually don't believe cost is a factor for most organizations I give to. A letter never reminds me to give online, but a postcard would be ideal. the letter is a waste of an envelope. They should know and ask our preferences, I believe it is possible and should happen. I think the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior... just my two cents!

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  2. You both make good points. The reality is that, certainly for large organizations, it's unrealistic to think that we have the capability to deliver messages to diverse audiences in a timely and cost-effective manner AND assure that every individual member of the audience receives our message according to their communication preference.

    The first obstacle to this approach is that it would be incredibly expensive. To determine what everyone's individual preferences are, let alone to deliver on those findings, would require significant investments in additional staff and programming resources.

    The second reality is that even when we attempt to do this, and I believe many programs have and continue to -- individuals don't accurately tell you what their preferences are. For instance, every single survey I've ever seen has indicated that prospects by FAR prefer not to be called; yet telemarketing remains the most effective way to convert non donors. We are always trying broaden our bases of donors and members -- how can we know what they prefer when we don't even know who they are yet?

    Another example -- Millennials are notorious for claiming to want to be contacted electronically, yet statistics tend to show that, actually, they often respond better to old fashioned direct mail than they do to email. This group has also been lauded in our industry's trades for how generous they are, and how focused they are on wanting to make a difference...yet statistics show that they actually contribute very little -- and often they do it because their social group is doing it, not because they have any real commitment to the causes they support (ALS ice bucket challenge, Giving Tuesday, etc.). They tend to do what is popular within their social networks. That's what the actual statistics tell us.

    No doubt, this is the ideal -- to communicate with every individual member of our audiences in the way that individual prefers is the "Holy Grail" for non-profit marketers. But with all due respect, Lynn -- only small non-profits with staffs that are sized appropriately to support a manageable number of prospects and donors can realistically pull this off programatically. Large orgs with audiences numbering in the tens and hundreds of thousands and up will always endeavor to be as donor-centric as possible, but they will always need to weigh what they would like to do with what they have to do to hit their goals. There's a difference between prospecting and stewarding, and it follows that there would be different approaches that are suited to each type of effort.

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    1. I appreciate the debates- It already happens at organizations large and small, through technology like Cerkl. I don't think Giving Tuesday and the Ice Bucket challenge are similar at all. What I'm saying is that people have to care and have to make an effort to make a difference. We have to change our behavior in order to retain donors. If we focused on retention, it would help level the playing field, not just monetary goals.

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    2. Agree...retention is key.

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    3. Retention is the other side of the acquisition coin.

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  3. Thanks Lynn, your posts are always enlightening and stirs my thinking pot as the founder of a Midwest nonprofit. I stress out when I see you post something we have tried or something I was thinking about doing...with a negative response. But I count this as great opportunities to step back, rethink, and regroup before moving forward with our fund drives.

    Curious: are many nonprofits using Animoto ads (videos) like the one you shared in Kansas City at the Kauffman Foundation?

    It showed a blind man begging and a female stopped to re-word his sign. That was a deal breaker for me and has changed how I get the word out about what we do.

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    1. Video is a great interaction tool!!
      Here is the link to the video-
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzgzim5m7oU

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  4. As always you've hit it right where it hurts. We need to reach out to this level of donor base more often to understand their giving preferences and not just major gift donors. Its all about retention and knowing this information goes along way. I appreciate your view on this and plan to discuss our options with staff as we move into the next round of appeals. I hope to see you in Denver next year. Have a great holiday.

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    1. Thanks Marc! You have a wonderful holiday as well- No growth without a little discomfort!

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  5. Hi Lynn,
    I re-entered higher education fundraising in late summer (yeah!) and I completely overhauled the year-end annual fund appeal away from the standard letter. While I couldn't incorporate all items you stated, I did include information on the impact the donors made over the last year. I actually had a donor call and say 'thanks'. They always gave but weren't sure how it was used aside from the one student that would be highlighted previously (the information was provided in prior years but it was very text heavy letter and the donor didn't take the time to read every word). The donor said planned to increase their gift! I hope to have more similar donors to turn around the slide that was happening.

    Now, to overhaul my communication impact strategy and allow for donors to select their communication preferences!
    - Stacy

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    1. Isn't that wonderful! I'm so happy for your experience and your braveness to change! Kudos!

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  6. This year, for the first time, we sent our LYBUNTS that gave online a customized email appeal with a video and and a link to give...we also shared that we were doing this because we noticed they made their gift online last year...and we let them know that if we didn't hear from them we would still send them something in the mail. A few made their gifts online based on the email but many didn't and they got a letter. It will be interesting to tally it all up in January - easy to do and some likely appreciated it.

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    1. This is great thinking- I will be interested to see the results!

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  7. Hi Lynne,
    Great blog post! I just subscribed to the blog and registered for a yearly subscription to your webinars. My question is about frequency. We mailed our fall appeal letter out late this year (mid Nov)and then we mailed the Holiday appeal out on December 15th. Do you recommend spacing the two mailings out more or just sending one end of year appeal to donors? We currently have 1300 donors on the list. Thank you, Laura.

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