Charity's Acquisition Effort Puts Donors to Work

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WASHINGTON -- It wasn't surprising given the economic climate that a session on donor acquisition strategies was standing room only here yesterday at the Direct Marketing Association's Nonprofit Federation's 2003 Washington Nonprofit Conference.

Nancy Jo Houk, direct marketing manager at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, discussed a direct mail campaign her organization uses to acquire new donors. Called Helping Hands, it involves soliciting existing donors to send appeals to friends and family members.

The society began using the campaign in 1996 and has done it ever since. A telemarketing firm calls the house file donors to get volunteers. For those who agree, the society sends them a kit of preprinted appeals and envelopes to send to five to 20 people of their choosing.

The 2002 campaign yielded gross revenue of $3 million and 78,000 new donors with an average gift 15 percent to 20 percent higher than the society's usual average gift.

Houk said the group plans a similar campaign online soon.

Session speaker Chris Paradysz addressed the topic of using the Web to acquire new donors.

"The good news is that there is more good news than bad news regarding online donations," said Paradysz, CEO of list brokerage firm ParadyszMatera. He said 9/11 raised awareness of what the Web can do as a medium for donations.

Paradysz suggested things fundraisers can do to develop the online channel, such as using search engine optimization to get prospective donors to their Web sites. He also advocated getting cost-per-donor deals for those services as well as buying Spanish-language keywords to get Spanish speakers to the Web sites.

Once someone signs up at a charity's Web site, the next step is conversion into a donor. Paradysz said the techniques used in direct mail are also effective online such as sending newsletters via e-mail.

In other conference news, Lee Cassidy, former executive director of the Nonprofit Federation, received the Distinguished Service award from the DMA at a dinner Wednesday night.

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