Surgery on Mailings Is a Success for Clinic

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A switch from generic donation requests to targeted mailings by the Lahey Clinic has cut costs 40 percent while achieving the same results.

The clinic, a nonprofit practice of more than 500 physicians providing medical services throughout Massachusetts, had always sent 150,000 direct mail packages to donors and prospective donors in May and November, said David Welbourn, vice president of philanthropy at the clinic. Each mailing brought in about $500,000, an average donation of $165 and a response rate of a little less than 1 percent.

But last November the clinic changed to four yearly mailings of 20,000 or less per mailing in November, February, May and September. Instead of a general message to recipients, appeals were targeted to the ages, interests and donating histories of recipients. Letters also focused more on the work of the institution than on the institution itself.

"We're sending specific messages to specific groups in the Lahey family," Welbourn said. "It makes more sense to tell people what they accomplish with their gift than to say the institution needs their support."

The November mailing brought in about $200,000, an average gift of $165 and a response rate of 6 percent.

In addition to a letter with a tear-off reply form and a return envelope, half of the November mailing contained a four-color, trifold, 5-inch-by-8-inch brochure about the clinic. But results showed that the brochure did not improve donations, and the February mailing of 12,000 went out without the brochure. Data are not yet available on that mailing.

The Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA, plans to send additional small mailings, from 100 to several thousand pieces, throughout the year. These may be targeted to older people who might consider planned giving such as a trust, an annuity or putting the Lahey Clinic in their wills. In addition, the small mailings may target people interested in areas such as research or the new cancer center.

Donors receive a thank-you letter signed by Dr. David Barrett, CEO of The Lahey Fund, within 48 hours of receipt of the donation. The clinic will further cultivate its relationship to donors with a four-color newsletter that will go out to donors and high-end prospects "ad hoc, when there's an opportunity to say something good, perhaps four to six times a year," Welbourn said.

The Lahey Clinic sees about 1 million people yearly. The clinic has a database of 35,000 people who have made gifts within the past 15 years.

The Lahey Clinic has hired Thompson Financial, a company that runs names through a wealth estimation process, to sort high-end prospect donors for special attention. Lahey also is identifying people who have not been to the clinic in a while or have not responded to direct mail appeals in six to 10 years.

Lapsed donors will receive less personalized, less expensive mail, and within a year Welbourn hopes to drop them from the clinic's list.

So far, targeted direct mail has mostly helped the clinic reduce costs, but Welbourn hopes it also will help increase donations. He hopes to increase total annual giving from $1 million to $2 million within a few years.

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