Direct Mail Still Effective for Fundraisers, Study Finds

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Direct mail is still an important component of fundraising, especially for nonprofits with revenues between $50 million and $100 million, according to a recent survey.

And despite growth in Internet and e-mail use, fundraisers expressed less optimism about the success of those techniques than they did six months ago, according to the 181 fundraisers who answered the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy's December 2000 Philanthropic Giving Index survey.

The study found that the climate for philanthropy in the United States has slipped a bit over the past six months.

The overall index fell from 94.5 in the summer to 92 in December after a dip from 94.6 to 94.5 in the previous six months.

These results are consistent with general economic trends in the second half of last year: Industrial and factory production and auto sales dropped, department store sales were stagnant and initial unemployment claims outpaced new job growth.

Overall, 60 percent of fundraisers surveyed reported direct mail as successful or somewhat successful, which put direct mail considerably behind major gifts (83 percent), planned giving (75 percent) and foundation grants (73 percent). Thirty-seven percent of responding fundraisers said telephone solicitation is a successful technique.

These numbers are consistent with a pattern of decreasing success for direct mail and telephone solicitation over the past two years. Expectations for the next six months did not vary much from these percentages.

Although the Internet was rated successful by 23 percent of respondents and e-mail by 20 percent, the number of fundraisers reporting that their organizations use e-mail to raise funds has grown from 20 percent to 25 percent in the past six months. The number of experts reporting that their organizations have set up a Web page for accepting contributions remained steady at 46 percent.

E-mail was rated successful by 16 percent of respondents in the summer and 10 percent in December. The Internet was rated successful by 15 percent of respondents in the summer survey and by 7 percent in December. Fundraisers were also statistically less optimistic about the future of e-mail and the Internet.

Fundraisers from large organizations were more optimistic about both the current and future fundraising climate than their peers in smaller organizations were.

The Philanthropic Giving Index is a semiannual study of the state of philanthropy nationally. The December survey was mailed to 270 development executives of nonprofit organizations and 26 fundraising consultants who represent a cross-section of the nonprofit sector in revenue, size, geographic region and subsectors, such as health, education and human services.

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