Nonprofits marketing direct to donors

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Nonprofits marketing direct to donors
Nonprofits marketing direct to donors

Nonprofits' nascent efforts in digital marketing have taken on a greater urgency of late, as already tight budgets are squeezed even more by the cur­rent economy. As a result, organizations are cutting marketing costs where they can and redirecting their efforts to less expensive digital strategies. Most donations still come in by mail. However, many charities are looking for the best ways to integrate online with offline and for other strategies to improve the ROI for direct mail.

“It is extremely difficult right now in the non­profit arena, as gifts are pretty much flat,” says Janet Granger Happ, manager of healthcare and education customer marketing for Pitney Bowes. As a result, nonprofits are relying on their solid supporters, reaching out to them with a combi­nation of electronic and direct mail communica­tions. “Starting off electronically and following up through the mail is the most successful strategy for nonprofits,” she says.

Because direct mail can be expensive, nonprofits want their programs to be as efficient as possible and often look to e-mail to help make that happen, says Joe Tyler, CEO at Informz Inc. Increasingly, groups will launch a fundraising campaign by e-mail to test any messaging and see what resonates with constituents.

Another way nonprofits use e-mail to support their direct mail programs is with a succession of e-mail blasts designed to learn as much as possible about an audience. Any data that are collected can be used to segment the nonprofit's audience for direct mail purposes.

Taking integration efforts beyond just the Inter­net and mail channels can have an even bigger impact on nonprofits' fundraising efforts, says Debbi Barber, president of agency Grizzard.

“In looking at the results from all of our clients, integrated marketing across a variety of channels was clearly the strategy we saw that had the biggest impact on results,” says Barber. “Mail as a single-channel strategy is decreasing, but mail is still so important because the majority of money comes from it. However, other channels can enhance mail, because people are operating in more chan­nels today than ever before.”

By listening to donors about how they want to be communicated with and giving them various options to be communicate with and to donate, nonprofits are improving results, she explains.

Grizzard works with 32 of the larger humane societies across the country. Three of those, Bar­ber says, are putting their messaging out to the community via billboards, radio, TV and FSIs, in addition to mail and the Internet. Those are exceeding expectations.

For the Salvation Army in Dallas, for example, Grizzard developed a program around the tagline “Please don't forget,” with placement in mail, FSIs, space ads and billboards. The campaign also included radio, where the Salvation Army sponsored the traffic report.

“People would hear the campaign on the radio, see it on a billboard and go home and see it in the mail,” says Barber. As a result, the organization's income was up 25% last year and new donors increased 28%.

Some charities are creating catalogs that show­case giving opportunities and encourages potential donors to choose something as a gift.

“In this economic environment, people are think­ing about doing something more meaningful,” says Robbin Gehrke, SVP, executive creative director at Russ Reid. “When a donor gives to a charity's catalog, they are giving from a different share of wallet,” he explains, as they are also using the donation as a gift.

The catalogs typically have the same overall look and feel as any other catalog a consumer might receive in the mail. The challenge for chari­ties is to find creative ways to package different opportunities for giving.

“Organizations need to be mindful that their fundraising expertise will take them half of the way when launching a holiday catalog,” says Gehrke. “The other half is understanding catalog metrics, circulation strategy and catalog creative.”

The benefits can be significant, she adds. The average purchase price or donation for a charity cat­alog is $100. These mailings have even been known to bring in $10,000 and $20,000 gifts from major donors. And, they're a good way to attract new donors and engage regular single gift donors.

“The organizations we worked with this holi­day season all did very well with their catalogs,” says Gehrke.

One current imperative for nonprofits is to “recession-proof” all marketing communications, including direct mail, Gehrke continues. “Donors are making sacrificial donations at this time and that needs to be recognized,” she says.

This means that whatever need the organiza­tion is trying to communicate must relate to the economy in some way. One of the food banks Russ Reid works with changed its messaging in the fall, recognizing that many people who had been donors in the past now come in needing food because they are out of work.

Others are putting more resources behind thank­ing donors for their generosity during these dif­ficult times. One of the agency's clients sent out personal letters from the president of the organi­zation followed by letters from end beneficiaries followed by a phone call to certain donors.

“Every organization needs to do everything they can to protect and keep their best donors right now,” says Gehrke. “People are looking for value in how they spend their money.” By keeping their mail programs fresh via integrated campaigns and insuring the messaging is on topic, nonprofits can go a long way toward staying top of mind.


The Michigan Humane Society's net revenue was up 12% last year, despite the fact that Detroit, the state's largest city, has been one of the areas hardest hit by the current recession. This success was due in part to an integrated marketing cam­paign created by Grizzard that included several forms of direct mail as well as online fundraising efforts. For the former, a resident mailing list was used to lower costs and mail saturated areas where Grizzard felt Michigan Humane could pull donors.

The direct mail packages also offered prospective donors the opportunity to make their gift online using a specific URL so the agency could track those that came to the page from the mail. The direct online prospect responses specific to the URL generated an additional $5,213.00 with 63 gifts for an average gift of $82.75, in contrast to a $25.36 average gift from those responding via the mail. In fact, online donations in Q4 2008 were up 40% over online donations in Q4 2007. “We feel it is valuable because the cost is low, the average gift is much higher, therefore the long-term value of the donor is greater,” says Barber.


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