3 Direct Mail & Email Lessons from the For-Profit World

The nonprofit and for-profit sectors can learn a great deal from each other. For example, there are three powerful insights from the for-profit sector about direct mail and email marketing that fundraising professionals can certainly benefit from.

In a never-ending search for the latest, greatest tactics and ways to cut costs, the nonprofit sector has embraced email fundraising while frequently questioning whether direct mail is dead.

So, what can the for-profit sector teach us?

Lesson 1: Direct Mail is Alive and Well

For both customer acquisition and retention, the for-profit sector knows that direct mail still works. That’s probably because 73 percent of consumers prefer direct mail, according to Epsilon. Furthermore, Interquest Digital Direct Mail Printing reports that direct mail delivers 30 times the response rate of email.

Direct Mail v Email InfographicWhile the numbers will be somewhat different for the nonprofit sector, or for particular organizations, the reality is that consumers (also our donors) like direct mail. That’s why they respond to it. While direct mail is not as effective as it was several decades ago, it remains a powerful fundraising tool.

Now, I’m talking about high-quality, well-crafted direct mail, not something you just throw together. I’m talking about direct mail that is donor centered and touches the prospect’s emotions. I guarantee you that bad direct mail will produce poor results. However, a good direct mail appeal will still achieve meaningful results.

Lesson 2: Direct Mail and Email Work Better Together

It’s not just chocolate and peanut butter that go together. The marketing agency Merkle has shown, in a study for one of its pharmaceutical clients, that email can produce a greater response than direct mail. However, when direct mail and email were used together in a multi-channel marketing campaign, the result was a 118 percent lift over direct mail alone.

For a wealth management client, Merkle found that it could generate a call response that was 1.5 to 3.8 times greater when using email and direct mail together rather than direct mail alone.

Direct Mail and Email 2Sometimes, nonprofit organizations think of their fundraising efforts in silos. “Let’s plan our direct mail appeal. If people don’t respond, we can call them later to renew. But, we’ll need to make sure the timing doesn’t interfere with our email appeal.” Sometimes, I’ll see charities that will exclude people from the direct mail pool who are in the email pool; it’s often seen as a cost-saving tactic.

The reality is that multi-channel, coordinated marketing (and, yes, fundraising) works. Some people are more direct mail responsive (whether or not you have their email address in your system). Other folks are more email responsive. Some individuals need to hear from you a couple of times before you capture their attention. For all of these reasons, multi-channel fundraising could help you get better results. By the way, it’s not just a matter of coordinating direct mail and email. You can also coordinate direct mail and the telephone, email and advertising, etc.

Lesson 3: Test!

The for-profit sector expends a great deal of effort to carefully construct tests. I’ve shared just a couple of examples. Then, based on the test results, some tactics are embraced while others are discarded. What works for one organization might not work quite as well for another. What works now might not work as well next year. To maximize performance, however that might be defined, requires testing.

In the examples I’ve cited above, direct mail response rates were seen as stronger than email while in other cases email outperformed. As I said, testing is important, not just for an industry or profession, but also for specific organizations.

The better for-profit marketers will test something in virtually every campaign. They might test timing, audience, package size, lift notes, response mechanisms, multi-channel tactics, etc. The point is, they’re always testing to see if they can improve upon conventional wisdom.

Test Well by Doran via FlickrBy contrast, while many charities do test, many in the nonprofit sector rely almost exclusively on conventional wisdom, also known as best practices. I recognize that there’s some safety in doing that. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you ignore conventional wisdom. I’m just suggesting that you always look to test some component of your outreach whenever you do a campaign. Push the boundaries. See if you can discover an even better way for your organization. If the test doesn’t lead you to an improvement, at least you’ll have greater confidence in continuing to do what you’ve been doing.

Remember, EVERYTHING you are doing was new at one point. The best practices you embrace evolved over time as people tested different approaches, sometimes through well-structured tests and at other times through simple trial and error. That’s why we no longer deliver mail by running couriers as the Chinese did in 1000 BC.

If you’re not testing, you’re not getting the full value out of your efforts.

You need to find what works best for your donors. It may or may not be what works best for you.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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2 Comments to “3 Direct Mail & Email Lessons from the For-Profit World”

  1. Thanks for this, Michael. A good article and very useful.

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