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

Nonprofit marketers continue to rely on their long-standing marketing strategies, direct mail in particular, even as they move to integrate other online and social media elements into their fundraising arsenals.  

Nonprofit brands say traditional direct mail still provides them with a high return on investment in their customer acquisition and donor cultivation campaigns. Although nonprofits don't plan to quit direct mail soon, they are mixing in Web-based strategies to reach younger consumers and enlist a new generation of donors. 

“We are, as much as possible, using multichannel marketing, but most of our eggs are in direct mail. We have been in the direct mail business for more than 15 years, and it is our most robust database of donor information. Our most loyal donors are found through the direct mail program,” says Elizabeth LaBorde, VP of development at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit that helps children with life-threatening diseases. “By far, the biggest revenue generator is direct mail, but we are employing the use of mobile and looking to do other types of things because we want to diversify the channels we use. Obviously, different types of people respond to different types
of communications.”

That marketing mix does not include telemarketing, another common nonprofit tactic. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has what LaBorde calls a “very strict no telemarketing policy,” but the organization is researching direct response television, in part, to reach younger prospective donors, she says. 

“Usually older recipients are responding to direct mail,” says LaBorde. “Younger people don't respond as well to that medium, and we are trying to get a broad range of people who want to donate.”

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The Make-A Wish Foundation is certainly not alone among nonprofits in relying heavily on direct mail. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital continues to depend on direct mail because no other medium is as effective, says Brian Cowart, SVP of national direct mail at the organization. 

“I know it's been around forever, and everyone says it's going to die out, but it is still the most effective way of reaching new donors and cultivating them,” he says. “When you factor in the cost of entry into the channel and compare the ROI, it is still the most successful medium.”

That reasoning was supported in a recent Direct Marketing Association Response Rate Trend Report. This found 91% of nonprofits use direct mail, while half of them use e-mail. The report also found that while direct mail response rates trended higher than average, e-mail open rates performed lower than average at a 15.5% rate.

Cowart says that St. Jude embraces a range of direct marketing techniques, remarking that “we believe all of them have a place in the fundraising mix and that all of them can be successful if used appropriately.” The organization has accelerated its process of integrating direct mail with other, Web-based methods of reaching consumers in the past few years, he adds. 

“Without question, things are changing. While I don't see direct mail going away any time soon, I see us augmenting direct mail with  new channels. Certainly e-mail is something we use to augment our direct mail,” he says. “I think donors are becoming more used to communicating with us through both mediums, and there are a lot of donors who are responsive to giving through that vehicle, more so than five years ago. Donors in that 35- to 55-year-old age group are really receptive to both mediums as forms of communication and will respond to both.”

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