Conference Speaker: Sept. 11 Proved Online Fundraising Can Work

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NEW YORK -- Sept. 11 proved that fundraising online can succeed, said yesterday's keynote speaker at the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation's 2002 New York Nonprofit Conference.


About 30 percent of the money raised for 9/11 relief by the American Red Cross was donated online, said Peter Frumkin, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and assistant professor at Harvard University, though much of it was unsolicited. While donors flocked to the Internet in record numbers, the majority gave to organizations they already knew and trusted.


"We can learn about the nature of giving from this event," he said.


The biggest public relations disaster came when the Red Cross said it would use some of the money for future disaster relief. This problem could have been avoided, he said, had organizations been clear from the beginning about how the money would be used.


In a session afterward, panelist Phyllis Freeman, senior vice president and marketing director at Epsilon, discussed an informal survey of nonprofits post-Sept. 11, which found:


· 99 percent added inserts to mailings.


· 85 percent maintained their planned mail volume after Sept. 11.


· 75 percent changed copy.


· 75 percent eliminated test panels.


· 25 percent added an extra mailing.


None of the respondents, however, said they made permanent changes.


Panelist Chris Cleghorn, senior vice president of direct and interactive marketing at Easter Seals, shared what his organization did in response to Sept. 11.


"When the first attack occurred, Easter Seals had three main mail pieces hitting homes and its new fiscal year had just begun on Sept. 1," he said. "The organization decided to adjust slightly but stay the course."


Easter Seals trimmed its acquisition program to eliminate marginal lists, added an insert addressing Sept. 11, added a U.S. flag to its outer envelope and added its logo to the outer envelope. The organization also dropped an extra appeal to its house file.


In retrospect, Cleghorn said, the initial appeal -- which went out pre-9/11 -- pulled 20 percent better than the previous year. The first package with the flag was up 13 percent from the previous year, but dropped 10 percent in a subsequent mailing. The logo envelope mailing fell 8 percent.


"The general message is stay the course," he said. "Most of the things we did probably didn't help."


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