Nonprofits Aim to Bolster Lists With Issue-Related Appeals

Though the change in presidential administration in January seemed to be a setback for many left-leaning nonprofit organizations, several mailers have started direct mail appeals using the change in Washington to help build their donor files.

“With any change in administration — especially if it's a change in party — there are going to be changes in policy, so mailers are going to be framing their appeals based on what they're dealing with,” said Nancy Purcell, strategic development manager at list brokerage and management firm Names in the News, Oakland, CA. “Those appeals tend to be energizing to people because there is a real synergy between the news and the issues that they are mailing on.”

Over the years it has become clear to list professionals that issue-related organizations with views that oppose the party in power can play upon those differences to gain donors.

“Party-driven causes fluctuate,” said Leonard Medico, vice president of list management at American List Counsel Inc., Princeton, NJ. “Any time when the party in power may not be supportive of a group's agenda, more fundraising efforts will take place.”

ALC handles lists from such liberal-minded organizations as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Two particularly hot topics under the new administration are environmental concerns and abortion rights, said Purcell, whose firm 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.

“A truism of fundraising is that you will always have better results when you are responding to a crisis, and when more people donate, the list grows,” Purcell said.

In turn, many nonprofits stand to bolster their house files under the Bush administration. As a result, some mailers may be more apt to test these growing files.

Still, list professionals disagree somewhat on whether such growth really makes a difference.

“As long as any mailer is mailing and adding new names to their file, it's always a good time to test,” said Dodee M. Black, president and chief operating officer at Atlantic List Co. Inc., Arlington, VA. “People who sign on as a result of an urgent appeal to influence legislation or public sentiment might not be the people who will stick with it.”

Though she agrees that hotline names are desirable in any category, Black said out-of-category mailers might do better with a broader recency select to get more of a cross-section of established and new donors.

Atlantic List's clients include Friends of the Environment and the Southern Poverty Law Center as well as many conservative organizations.

Meanwhile, direct mailers still rely on recency, frequency and monetary value when looking at files to test.

“When you are seeing a hot issue, you are going to get people who are more recent donors on the list, probably more frequent donors, and people are probably going to be increasing their donations,” Purcell said.

Even so, it is tough to get a publisher or a catalog mailer to use a donor list, Medico said. It is important to make the mailer understand that while the files are composed of donors, they are consumers as well, he added.

Though other fundraisers are always more likely to test a fundraising file, out-of-category mailers with matching demographics should consider testing growing files, Medico said.

However, one list professional warned that fundraising results are also affected by the economy.

“I think that what's affecting fundraising the most right now is the economy,” said Donna Packer, president of Packer Lists, Washington, who deals mostly with health-related nonprofits.

Issue-oriented mailers may be getting around that right now, but donors are more likely to give in greater numbers and at higher amounts when the economy is good, she added.

So far, nonprofits that have already sent issue-related direct mail packages are seeing promising early returns, Purcell said.

However, mailers should be aware that there often is a lag time until the new names appear on the organizations' lists because many nonprofits update less frequently than other types of lists.

Still, many new names will be available on many lists in time for mailers' fall and holiday campaigns, Purcell said.

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