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Nonprofits Generate Success With DR Print Ads

Direct response print ads may not seem very cutting edge in the age of multichannel marketing but several nonprofit fundraisers are using them in their direct marketing mix to gain new donors, especially during the holiday season.

One organization that sees value in direct response print advertising is City Harvest, New York, a nonprofit that obtains unused food and delivers it to 500 food programs serving the city's poor.

City Harvest ran a full-page ad Nov. 15 in The New York Times special section called Giving. The ad showed the back of a truck with a donation form inside with the headline, “Help Fill This Truck.”

The organization places the bulk of its print ads starting before Thanksgiving and continuing through the end of the year, said Patricia Barrick, senior director of marketing at City Harvest.

Placing ads in The New York Times makes sense for City Harvest, and the demographic works well, she said.

“You will see another four or five ads from now until the end of the year,” she said. “The holiday season is an important time for fundraising for us. As a food-related organization, this is our huge fundraising time.”

Having advertised this way for at least 10 years is a good indication that City Harvest is pleased with the ads, even though they are not completely measurable.

“Although the ads are designed as direct response mechanisms and we have a code on them and track them, we still know that people respond through the toll-free number and the Web site,” Barrick said. “We always have some that come back in the mail, but the telephone number and Web address are not unique, so they cannot be tracked.”

The main goal for the ads is as support of the group's direct mail, she said, but they also help with visibility and branding. City Harvest also uses a celebrity component in some print ads, which Barrick said boosts recognition.

Another advocate of direct response print advertising is Chip Grizzard, CEO of Grizzard Agency, Atlanta, a leading marketing shop for nonprofit organizations.

“We believe very strongly that charities ought to integrate all the channels,” he said. “We guide our clients to do direct response newspaper marketing along with direct mail, Internet and telemarketing.”

Grizzard suggests using special toll-free telephone numbers and URLs in such ads to track response and return on investment.

“Some charities are finding that as new donors are acquired through print, primarily newspaper, they have higher retention rates and higher lifetime values than direct mail donors,” he said.

Donors coming through ads are typically younger, which broadens the base of support for charities, Grizzard said.

However, he said he had seen no cutbacks in direct mail.

“There are so many messages and so much clutter out there that one channel just doesn't cut it anymore,” Grizzard said.

Print ads in local press typically are more successful than those in big, national newspapers, he said.

“The local rescue missions probably do it more than anyone else,” Grizzard said.

His firm has several rescue mission organizations as clients. He said they usually run ads 16-17 consecutive days through the Thanksgiving period, followed by another 16-17 days during the Christmas season.

Also, large, national charities do well through local papers.

“We've had better success for the Salvation Army going into the Atlanta Journal or the Dallas paper than USA Today or The Wall Street Journal,” Grizzard said.

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