Do you read direct mail?

This is why I was in Manhattan on Friday. Fund Raising Day in New York, sponsored by the New York Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Even though I’m not directly responsible for development, I wanted to attend this conference to have a macro view of the strategies we could be using to raise resources for C3. This thing was huge…over 1,000 attendees, multiple tracks, nice size exhibit hall.

It was interesting to say the least. We’re such small potatoes, that my attending this thing was kind of like a child who has one of those Fisher Price See & Say things going to WWDC. But I went in to learn about small ideas we could implement now, and big ideas we can plan for later that can help get us to the point that we may actually belong at one of those things one day. I like to think 3 steps ahead. I nearly fell off my chair when one speaker spoke about a “small” campaign expected to only raise $1.5 million and how many organizations look to fill in gaps of $300-400K in their budget through individual gift campaigns. I guess you can do that when you have databases of 300,000 people to call upon. So not us.

Many of the consultants in the sessions were saying that direct mail is dead (or dying), but easily 70% of the exhibit hall were direct mail vendors. One caught my eye and asked me about our direct mail plans. It led to an interesting conversation. I told him that we had no direct mail plans. He was shocked. Horrified, actually. He started telling me what I could do for as little as $25,000. That doesn’t even include the list broker for the mailing list or the postage. Most of the professionals I spoke to said that the cost-per-conversion for direct mail were getting so high, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. I tend to agree. I’d rather spend that $25,000 on a combination of traditional and online media in an attempt to build buzz and trust.

I know I don’t read 98% of the direct mail I get, even from organizations that I already have a relationship with. I throw it on Eric’s pile and it usually goes out with the next recycling pick up. How about you? Are you persuaded by those letters? Do you learn about causes that way? I’m not talking about for-profit direct mail, I’m thinking of non-profit stuff only. Ironically, one of the speakers who said direct mail is dying made an exception for animal conservation groups…he said that they have the highest conversion rates. No one can resist pictures of cute & cuddly baby animals, I guess.


5 responses to “Do you read direct mail?”

  1. I read a lot of the direct mail I get from non-profits, particularly when it’s from an organization I already think highly of, like the Red Cross or the EFF. In a few cases it’s convinced me to give them money. I find it most useful as a reminder when I haven’t given an organization anything in a while, but I’ll also get annoyed if they remind me too often. Stanford does that — I give them money once a year, no more and no less, but I get roughly 25 different fundraising letters from them a year.

    I’d wouldn’t give to a new cause that I found out about via direct mail, though. I treat unsolicited direct mail a lot like unsolicited email — if I didn’t explicitly give an organization my address, they shouldn’t be sending me mail. I might read it, but there’s no way I’d send them money.

  2. Thanks Eric & Jack for your input.

    Eric, question…would you be more or less likely to donate to an organization if you got an email versus a mailed piece? Personally, I’m more likely to give if I can click a link and fill out a form with a credit card rather than write a check that I never quite get around to doing. But I’m curious how other people feel? Do you have more trust or are you more likely to react if the pitch is on paper?

    I just have a hard time wrapping my head around doing direct mail these days…a consultant or salesman will tell you that the conversion rate is around 10% at best. Reality seems to be around 5% from the folks I’ve spoken to. Statistics also seem to say that people give higher amounts online than through the mail.

  3. Regarding giving online versus by mail, by the way, I always give online, even if I was reminded about the organization by mail. I’d much rather type my credit card number into a web site than find stamps and write a check.

    Would I be more likely to contribute to an organization if I heard from them via direct mail than via email? That’s tough to say. If it’s an organization I don’t have any previous relationship with, the answer is neither, since I won’t give a first contribution through any unsolicited message. (I like to pick my non-profits; I don’t like them to pick me.) I’m less annoyed when I receive unsolicited direct mail than when I receive unsolicited email.

    There’s the additional catch that a fair number of the email pitches, particularly unsolicited ones, will get caught up in Mail’s spam filter and I’ll never see them. That’s frustrating when it’s from an organization I’ve already given to, but it happens. None of those folks email me often enough for me to have special filters for them…and I wouldn’t want them to, but I also don’t want their mail marked as spam.

    For an organization I’ve already given to, I think I’m more likely to give if they send me direct mail reminding me that I haven’t given in a while, as opposed to email. (The first organization which sends me direct mail or email about 11 months from my last contribution saying “Your last contribution was on this date for this amount” will get a contribution. The most annoying thing about random pitches is that I don’t remember when I last gave and I rarely intend to give multiple contributions in a year.)

    With email, if I probably want to contribute I’ll read the note, think that I should do something about it, and then lose it in my inbox. With direct mail, I’ll put it next to my computer and remember it. That’s why it works better. If I was better at dealing with my email inbox I probably wouldn’t care about the difference between direct mail and email.

  4. Well, there’s a difference between direct mail and a letter writing campaign. I’m not against writing letters…those are the ones that can be personalized “Dear Eric, Our records show…This year won’t you consider…”

    As a matter of fact, even though our donation platform online sends out an immediate email that counts as a thank-you for tax purposes (it includes our tax ID #), we still send a snail mail thank you letter with every donation. We’re not against putting a stamp on paper in general.

    What I’m leaning against are the ones that are addressed “Dear Friend,” and have some 4-color intricate printed piece with a tear-off card, maybe some holiday labels or a pen. That’s more traditional direct mail.