'How much is too much direct mail?' asks Nonprofit Federation panel

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WASHINTON -- At the Direct Marketing Association's annual Nonprofit Federation conference, representatives from the Brady Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign addressed the pending question: are nonprofits mailing too much?

The answer was that organizations are mailing too much to unresponsive lists and further segmentation can prove to be both cost-effective and a way to increase net response.

"We focused on net and productivity and then the message and the creative," said Mary Ester of the Brady Campaign. "The challenges we were addressing were falling response rates, a name change and being a political group."

The Brady Campaign aimed to make mailings more cost-effective by examining its most responsive donors.

"We knew it had to be more than just mailing a cheaper package, so we went beyond recency, frequency and monetary value and looked to more refined segmentation groups," Ms. Ester said. "Most specifically, the donor rate of return."

The nonprofit always kept $100 plus donors in the mailings and cut 10 percent of the other list population through further segmentation.

"This allowed for us to identify the net producing and non net producing," Ms. Ester said. "We were able to isolate our best donors and have flexibility with each mailing depending on our goals of either getting the most net or opening it up."

The Brady Campaign used a member survey and testing to refine its direct mail. It now relies on a combination of technique, message strength and analysis to gather the best results.

The Human Rights Campaign has approximately 650,000 members and supporters. It defines members as people who have given a gift of $5 or more within a two-year period and supporters as those who have not given, but have taken an interest online.

The nonprofit receives 11.4 percent of its annual support through direct mail.

"We have come up with a unified system for direct mail," said Dane Grams of the Human Rights Campaign. "The first renewal mailing is segmented to first year donors, lapsed members, canvassing donors, etc."

The Human Rights Campaign used test track marketing to categorize donors into three groups. Those who have given three or more times via the Web, direct mail and the telephone were each classified separately.

"Those people who only gave online therefore only received e-mail appeals and so forth for each vehicle," Mr. Grams said. "The advantage is identifying individuals who have demonstrated a loyalty to one giving method."

The nonprofit feels that this process can help it become more cost-effective by mailing less. It also plans to study the long-term value of donors to see what is really worth continuing to do, bringing back and abandoning all together.

"The key is to carefully monitor your results and to really look at when you need to go beyond basic segmentation and make an investment," Mr. Grams said.

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