Direct mail continues to deliver top rewards in nonprofit industry

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Direct mail continues to deliver top rewards in nonprofit industry
Direct mail continues to deliver top rewards in nonprofit industry
Although social media outlets are generating a huge amount of buzz with young consumers, nonprofit direct marketers continue to struggle to find a consistent formula for raising money through tools such as Facebook and Twitter, says Robert Banner, VP of direct marketing at the Children's Miracle Network. 

“It's great from a branding perspective and great to get the message out, but it hasn't been a significant part of the fundraising mix other than when it is focused on a particular event,” he says. “Like everyone else, we are making an investment there. We launched a viral marathon where gamers basically paid to play. We raised about a half-million dollars.” 

Many nonprofits are as well-known for the telethons and TV specials that they use to raise money. With that in mind, many groups continue to use direct response television to acquire donors. The medium is best used for customer acquisition, specifically gaining donors with high long-term value, experts say. 

Nonprofits by the numbers

1.57 million Number of nonprofits in the US in 2008, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute

32.7% Increase in number of nonprofits from a decade prior

$1.7 billion Amount that United Way raised in donations in 2009, making it the No. 1 charity on The Chronicle of Philanthropy's top 400 list

11% The total drop in donations to the country's largest charities in 2009, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy

“DRTV is an effective medium for us to collect monthly donors. Because of the long-term value of a monthly donor, DRTV pays off better, but doesn't seem to work as well with single-time donors,” says Cowart. “If you are a smaller charity, the cost to enter this medium is very expensive from the production side and in terms of buying media. But if you are able to absorb that level of investment, it is a very effective way to acquire donors.” 

Many nonprofits are using mobile campaigns to reach donors. Although the American Red Cross used mobile marketing to raise more than $30 million in the days after January's earthquake in Haiti, mobile is not a good fit for organizations that don't specialize in disaster response, say marketers.

“Those organizations that do disaster relief, they do very well in the space but I don't know that other organizations do quite as well,” says LaBorde. “That doesn't mean that other organizations can't employ the technique, but you have to make sure you are managing your board's expectations. By and large, the very impactful mobile campaigns have been disaster-related.”

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