Mailing postponements, cutbacks and cancellations on the part of nondisaster-related charities in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are likely to have significant impact on nonprofit house files in the coming months, according to some list professionals.
While the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and United Way were inundated with donations immediately following the attacks, charities not related to disaster recovery did not stand a chance.
“If they were not related to relief efforts they saw a definite drop,” said Dodee M. Black, president and chief operating officer of Atlantic List Co. Inc., Arlington, VA.
Atlantic List's clients include AIDS Awareness Donors, Alzheimer's Association, Epilepsy Foundation, Friends of the Environment and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as many conservative organizations.
In what is usually the busiest season for nonprofit appeals, many organizations had to re-evaluate and alter their plans.
“It's been a variety of things: Mailers have canceled, postponed, pulled back or moved forward as usual, but most have re-evaluated what their strategy is,” said Steve Kehrli, senior account executive at list brokerage and management firm Names in the News, Oakland, CA.
Names in the News works with many nonprofit mailers, including Defenders of Wildlife, Emily's List, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Feminist Majority, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy.
“The majority of mailers are pulling back into their core audience and dropping secondary and tertiary markets. Subsequently, the core markets will tighten,” Kehrli added.
Of course, cutbacks are better than cancellations, but at least one list professional said that if mailers do not prospect, their list files will suffer.
“The problem is if my mailers don't prospect, their house lists are going to diminish even faster than they normally do,” said Donna Packer, president of Packer List, Washington.
Packer deals with several nonprofits such as The Metropolitan Opera, National Osteoporosis Foundation, Joni & Friends, International Fellowship of Christian & Jews and Associated Humane Societies.
For the majority of nonprofit mailers, this is a make-or-break time of year, and most realize that they have to mail.
“If they don't mail, they're not going to get new donors,” Black said.
Still, many have postponed mailings until the next year.
Such postponements will hurt list owners' fourth-quarter list rental income at a time when they could use a boost.
“I think there will be a fourth-quarter falloff in list rental income but that it will pick back up in the first quarter of next year,” Black said.
Among mailings that have gone out recently, charity clients have reported some reasonable results, Black and Packer said, which they find encouraging.
However, it is likely that when mailers come back in for names, file size will be somewhat diminished. If that is the case, mailers will have to get creative.
“Core-market list universes will be smaller, and mailers may have to try to reactivate their own older donors,” Kehrli said.
Black pointed out that older donor names are not necessarily such a bad thing to rent.
“In fundraising we find that older names are still strong. It's different than catalogers. As long as a file is cleaned and well maintained, older names can work well,” she said.
Mailers also may have to look at nontraditional list sources, Black said.
Ultimately, only time will tell how much nonprofit lists will be affected.
“It's a very uncertain situation,” Packer said. “We never know what's going to happen tomorrow.”