Charity's Appeal Helps Cover Utility Costs

WASHINGTON, DC — Though the strategy may not work for other nonprofit organizations, one charity developed a successful annual direct mail campaign simply by analyzing its yearly utility costs.

Kory Christianson, director of development at St. Joseph's Indian School, shared the strategy at the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation's 2003 Washington Nonprofit Conference here yesterday.

Christianson spoke at a session about tracking and analyzing the costs of running a nonprofit organization.

He said his group relied mainly on four internal reports — a cost center report, annual financial audit, list source report and campaign comparison analysis. An examination of the cost center report one year found that the annual utility bills for heat, electricity, telephone and water were nearly $300,000.

To encourage donations and recoup some of those expenses, St. Joseph's developed an appeal called the Emergency Fund. It explained the costs of heating the school, which is in South Dakota, during the winter.

It was a basic appeal in a standard telegram format and mailed at a cost of 18 cents per piece. It dropped for the first time in a February, when the weather is less than ideal, and pulled a good response, Christianson said.

“I believe the assumption is, if the weather is bad where the donors are, it must be even worse in South Dakota,” he said.

The campaign dropped for the first time in 1999 to 275,000 people with a 4.73 percent response and $26.93 average gift. It has mailed yearly since with similar results. The 2003 results were not complete but in 2002 there were 400,083 mailed with a 4.38 percent response and $30 average gift.

Other speakers at the session were Raymond Grace, president of Creative Direct Response; and Robert Hansen, executive director of development at Paralyzed Veterans of America.

The conference ends today.

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