Writing To Further Animal Welfare

Direct Mail

Direct mail was one of the major tools in my box when I worked for The Donkey Sanctuary many years before the recession. (if anyone can remember that far back!) Charities were returning in excess of 5% on a regular basis and one campaign we ran returned just under 12%, which seems amazing now, but at the time I can still remember our trustees not being happy!

Now it’s a very different story and even the big players are struggling to make any more than 3% on DM campaigns. But as a fundraising tool for small charities, DM should not be ruled out.

Although I always advocate complete research into any DM campaign through profiling and mail testing, experience leads me to believe that older people who have not embraced digital technology still like to send and receive letters, and are more likely to respond to a DM campaign. Although the trend is changing, as the  number of “Silver Surfers” is increasing very quickly.

I think the main attraction of DM for a small organisation, is that you can test the market for a relatively small investment to see how well your campaign is going to do and fine tune your mail out for most effect.

I guess the other point to mention before I go into the mechanics of DM, is to remember that not only is DM a fundraising tool, it’s also a great way of getting your core welfare message out to more people and because it is printed rather than on a computer screen, will end up on coffee tables and other places where more people are likely to see and read the material.

The last point is that DM is not a quick fix, its purpose is to build your donor database and works on the premise that the lifetime support of the donors it attracts, will ultimately make its use cost effective.

Ok here are the steps to take

  • Profile your Database
    • Before you go out and rent an expensive list of names to mail, you want to do all you can to find out about your current supporters. By understanding why they support your cause, you have more chance of finding more potential supporters like them.
    • You can profile your database in several ways depending on its size.
      • Through a List Broker
        • If it’s over 5000, then one of the large list broker companies should profile your database for free.
        • To do this you will have to let them have your data (you need to sign an agreement with them preventing the use of the data for any purpose other than profiling)
        • They will match the names on their database with those of millions across the country and provide you with a report identifying your donors characteristics, from their income to the papers they read.
        • They will also let you know how many people they have on their database who match the profile of your supporters and offer you those contacts for a price.
        • Remember you normally do not buy the contact; you rent the list and are only allowed to mail them all once. Any who respond to the mailing and become a supporter, you are allowed to keep.
        • To prevent the re-mailing of the list, the brokers seed the original list with special contacts, if those contact receive more than one mailing, the list broker knows you have mailed the rented list twice!
        • You can expect to pay between £0.20 and £0.50 per name rented, so it is important to get the research stage right.
        • You can find plenty of list brokers willing to rent you lists on the internet, here is an example http://www.charitybase.co.uk/
    • By sponsoring a survey question
      • The best DM campaign I ever ran, was from the result of sponsoring the question, “WOULD YOU DONATE TO A DONKEY SANCTUARY” in a national consumer survey.
      •  Over 50000 people said they would, DS rented the list and we achieved a fantastic result which paid for itself many times over, recruited thousands of new supportersand raised millions in donations.
      • As I have already said, in this current climate this is not likely to happen to the same extent, but if you have the resources this can be a very effective way of finding new prospective supporters.
    • By conducting your own survey
      • Another way of getting the information you need, is to include your own survey in one of your regular mail outs; As long as it is done anonymously most people do not mind sharing information with you, if they believe it will help your cause.
      • Knowing more about your supporter is crucial, not only for DM, but for all types of marketing For instance, if you know that 40% of your supporters read The Daily Mail, you know where to advertise, or if they like gardening etc. Having that information makes where you spend your marketing budget more effective.
  •  Design Contents and Testing
    • The golden rule is, that you are not the person you are marketing for! So don’t make assumptions about what will and won’t work.
    • Having said that there are some lessons I have learnt over the years which are:
      • Keep it Simple
        • Give a clear message and let your reader know what you want
      • Keep it focused
        • People like to be able to identify with the cause they are supporting; appealing for £10’000 to help with your global objectives, will not be as effective as appealing for £3.00 to help with a specific objective. As long as the appeal is worded correctly, a specific appeal does not have to restrict funding to only that use.
      • Perception is more influential then fact
        • In the graphics industry it is just as cost effective to produce large runs of high definition colour material, as it is to run black and white. But the perception of your supporter may be that they don’t want their donations wasted on perceived, expensive colour mail-outs.
        • Do you try and persuade them that it’s just as cost effective to run colour, or just mail what they perceive to be something  that saves you money?
      • Amateur/home-made can be good
        • Today people receive many highly professional mail outs every year, many go straight in the bin before they are opened, but if you received a letter with a handwritten address and a proper stamp, would you ignore it?
        • The great thing about DM is that you can test your  different campaigns to see how they work before completely committing to them, the one thing that should not change is the core content so keep the main story through all the samples
  • Content
    • Gifts
      • Many people hate the idea of a free gift seeing it as a waste of money, but all the campaigns I tested worked better with the gift then without. The gift should be something associated with your cause, some really nice postcards or another low cost item.
    • Stamps
      • The use of real stamps catches the attention of the prospective donor, if you provide a return envelope with a stamp, based on the results of my campaigns more people will respond.
      • The downside is that some of those people will only respond because they don’t want to waste the stamp and they will probably not, become a lifetime supporter.
      • These factors are hard to fit into your campaign plan, but I believe if you can get a prospective supporter to come back to you, at least you have a chance to persuade them to become a lifetime supporter.
    • Testing
      • The following table suggests a possible DM test campaign, with two main approaches, both with the same content.
      • Remember I suggested earlier that you stick with the one core approach, which by the way should be featured through all your PR and Fundraising mediums throughout the campaign period.
      • You will need to code the return envelopes so that you know which campaign is being responded to.
      • Many of the big companies will tell you that you need to mail at least 8000 to get an 80% indicator of returns. This is true but I think what we are looking for here is a good indicator of the best option for you. I mailed 300 of each approach and the results were good enough to hone down the rest of the campaign.
      • What actually happened was that there were a couple that performed as well as each other so I re-tested just those two with larger numbers.
      • Remember that although this is a test, it is not a wasted campaign, you will be recruiting new supporters from every response.
Body Stamp or franked return Gift Number
Modern design high quality colour with printed envelope and return envelope Yes Yes  300
As above No Yes 300
As above No No 300
Traditional Home Spun possibly hand written, black and white or low quality colour inserts with return envelope Yes Yes 300
As above No Yes 300
As above No No 300
  • Once you have completed your test mails, you will know which of the approaches worked the best and you will have a good idea of what percentage returns you can expect from a larger mailing.
  • Just as an indicator, the test mail I suggest above will cost in the region of £3500. You could mail less, but then the validity of the results would be compromised.

If you would like a spreadsheet to help you work out your DM campaign,  leave me a reply with your contact info and I will mail you one with instructions for use.

I hope you found this post useful and as always please ask if you would like any clarification, or you do not agree with this post. None of us learn unless we talk to each other!

“Lose one of many small supporters and you will survive, lose one of few large supporters and you won’t!”

Paul Svendsen


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