The Nuts and Bolts of Direct Mail

By Erica Waasdorp

Before I got ‘hooked’ on monthly giving, I was already a direct mail ‘aficionado’. Why? Because direct mail works. Because people respond to it. Because you can measure what you’re doing. You can see how many fundraising messages you mail out and how many donations you receive back.

But yet, so many people are no longer ‘trained’ in direct mail. They think that all donations are generated by social media. They think that everybody does everything on their smart phone.

For the past 35 years, I was fortunate to work at Reader’s Digest and later for and with a number of nonprofits that were so driven by direct mail and saw how important testing was within the campaigns they were doing.

Always improving. Always finding ways to do things cheaper or better, to get more responses. Isn’t that what you and I as fundraisers are always trying to do? Improve? Raise more money? Upgrade more doors?

So, when I started presenting webinars on monthly giving, I asked the question: “How many times do you appeal to your donors for money in the mail?” And so many said: never, once a year, twice a year, with some exceptions who mail 4 or more times a year.

Well, if many organization’s year-end appeal results are any indication, direct mail still responds at 600% or higher compared to email messages. I’m seeing cost to raise a dollar of $0.05 to $0.10 in some cases!  And that is just looking at the donations that are directly attributable to the appeal (in other words that came in with a reply form).

This means that direct mail still works. Yes, is it more expensive than email, absolutely. But not 600% more expensive.

And the good news is that you can create a direct mail appeal and create an email appeal variation as a version, so you can totally repurpose the content. Especially those donors who are responding to direct mail and email will be more engaged than those who respond via direct mail or email only.

At a recent conference, the ASPCA, one of the top 50 mailers in the country, shared that between 7 to 10% of their most recent new online donors were trackable to their direct mail campaign. Yes, they donated online, but they would have never gone online if it wasn’t for the direct mail piece.

So, direct mail is not dead and it must be part of your fundraising strategy. But, many fundraisers do not know how direct mail works and what’s important. Yes, storytelling and writing letters and emails are important, but it’s also crucial to look at targeting, timing, design, print, production and postage. That’s what you’ll get in the Webinar: The Nuts and Bolts of Direct Mail!  

About The Author

Erica Waasdorp is President of A Direct Solution, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Erica lives and breathes direct response and fundraising and can be considered a Philanthropyholic. She has published one of the very few books on monthly giving, called Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant. She co-authored the DonorPerfect Monthly Giving Starter and Marketing  Kits and she regularly blogs and presents in person and via webinars on anything direct mail, appeals and monthly giving.

You Can Do It! 5 Tips to Get Your Fundraising Print Publications #OnPoint

Strategies and tactics in fundraising may change, but print publications continue to be a critical resource in the nonprofit toolbox. According to Kivi Leroux Miller’s 2016 Nonprofit Communication Trends report, print remains one of the top five most important communication channels in the nonprofit sector.

Image Credit: Kivi Leroux Miller

Every nonprofit should invest in creating compelling fundraising publications. However, in the tumult of other pressing needs, many small nonprofits put off developing their annual reports, cases for support, and other collateral to save money. Let me put this simply: in ANY business, you must spend money to make money. Nonprofits are businesses; ergo, nonprofits need to spend money to raise money.

I hear you now: “That is all fine and good, Heather, but let’s live in reality. We do not have the money or the staff or the time or the expertise to do print publications.” But you do and you can, because you must. You do not have to hire a big consulting firm to make a great publication. You can do it with existing resources—including your Board and volunteers—if you focus on best practices and follow these five tips.

1. Define your expectations in writing. I use a questionnaire to start any publication project. I ask lots of questions of the nonprofit, like:

  • What is the purpose of your publication? Why is this effort important?
  • Who is your primary target audience? Secondary audiences?
  • What is your fundraising goal(s), in $$, related to the purpose?
  • Who is the project lead (one point of contact only)?
  • Who are your internal decision-makers (i.e. who has the authority to approve proofs)?
  • What channels do you currently use to communicate with your current and potential donors?
  • What is the geographic scope of the fundraising effort?
  • If people could use only three words to describe your organization, what would you want those three words to be? (ex. conservative, progressive, friendly, casual, professional)
  • What three words describe how you do NOT want to be perceived in the community?
  • What collateral have you published recently? Which is your favorite?
  • Does your organization have a style guide or do you reference a major style guide as a standard (AP, Chicago, etc.)?
  • How do you plan to distribute your publication?
  • What’s your print budget?
  • What is the deadline to go to print?

2. Use a team approach. Fundraising publications are of the highest quality when more than one brain or set of eyes is involved. Gather a team together and identify a project leader. (That could be you.) Delegate tasks, and serve as the hub of all the work that goes into the publication. Work with other staff and volunteers to get it done. #ProTip: Find a friendly graphic designer who may be willing to donate some or all her time to the project. Moreover, did you know some graphic designers specialize in the nonprofit sector? They are out there if you look!

3. Allow adequate time for the project. Publications should not be thrown together in haste. That leads to mistakes and missed opportunities. Writing and design are creative processes that require a reasonable time investment. Do not give burden yourself unnecessarily by trying write, design, print, and mail, for example, an invitation in the space of one day. You can have publications good, fast, or cheap. Pick two, but you cannot have all three.

4. Print your publications with a vendor. I am realistic about budgets, and you can get away with printing some publications on your desktop printer (like invitations to less formal events). However, for publications like cases for support or annual reports, work with a print vendor. Digital printing is a more affordable option than traditional printing on presses, and the quality of digital printing is just as good as traditional printing (which was not always the case). Do you want to spend all that effort on creating a beautiful publication only to print it on your desktop printer and have it look unprofessional?

5. Set a deadline for final changes. If at the last minute, you discover a donor’s name is misspelled in the annual report, that is a simple fix. However, if at the 11th hour you decide you want to change the design or copy of an entire page, you are in for a world of issues: that is not a quick fix and will affect the flow of the entire publication. Plan for multiple stages of editing and proofing (including a formal final review), but be reasonable. If you are not, the revisions will never stop. Set and stick to your publication schedule.

How do you stay on time, track, and budget with your fundraising publications?

Are You Ready to Create Your Powerful Case for Support?

Check out our upcoming 90-minute live webinar How to Create a Powerful Case for Support – the Must-Have Fundraising Publication for Every Nonprofit. You will learn proven practices and strategies to create a compelling and powerful Case for Support for your nonprofit. Through the Case for Support, you engage donors—new and potential—through your credibility, data, and consumers’ stories. The Case helps you motivate donors to give by using storytelling and graphics.

About The Author

Heather Stombaugh is a nonprofit expert with more than 16 years of experience in leadership, programs, and fundraising. She is the founder of JustWrite Solutions, a national nonprofit consulting firm. She serves as an expert for CharityHowTo, CharityChannel, and Thompson Interactive. Heather is an officer of local and national boards (Grant Professionals Foundation, Baskets of Care, AFP Northwest Ohio) and an active member of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA Weekly Grant News Editor and Approved Trainer). She is one of fewer than 50 people in the world who holds both the GPC and CFRE. Heather lives and breathes nonprofits!

This blog was influenced by an original blog post, Pain-Free Publications, by Ericka Kurtz of JustWrite Solutions.

How to Host a More Meaningful Volunteer Appreciation Event

by Tobi Johnson, MA, CVA

Volunteer appreciation events can be wonderful opportunities to recognize the hard work and achievements of your board members and volunteers with authentic, heartfelt and generous acknowledgement.

Too often though, overworked nonprofit organizers resort to the same breakfast, luncheon, or happy hour formula year after year. After awhile the event loses its glam and becomes a little worn and tired.

Whether you are looking for ways to refresh your annual volunteer and board appreciation events, or you are kicking off a new event, you can incorporate more meaning into these celebrations. Here’s how:

  • Chose Your Event Site or Location Carefully – You don’t have to go with the run-of-the mill conference or event center. Think about booking your celebration in a unique location (e.g., outside at a city park). Symbolic locations that relate directly to your mission (e.g., a civil rights museum) are also very powerful places that can reinforce a connection to your cause.
  • Event Special Speakers & Guests – You don’t have to go with that tired old speech about the value of volunteers and board supporters either. Volunteers already know how valuable they are! Instead, share success stories (e.g., a volunteer challenge that resulted in triumph). Also, make space during your event for expressions of appreciation between volunteers (e.g. a gratitude wall). Ask those who have benefitted from the volunteers’ work to share their personal reflections. Invite spouses or families of volunteers and thank them, too. After all, how many board members could do the work they do without the encouragement of their spouse?
  • Design The Event Program & Activities to Focus on Mission, Altruism & Individuality – Provide a “state of the organization” update & “sneak peeks” of the future. Read thank you notes from clients aloud. Create opportunities for volunteers to take a role in helping your community (e.g. make a donation to a sister organization on their behalf). Individualize name tags and table tents as much as possible (e.g., include information about each specific key reasons for volunteering or catch phrases). Make space for socializing & “supported” networking & teambuilding.
  • Recognize the Symbolic Nature of Sharing a Meal – In ancient times, sharing one’s meal symbolized hospitality and goodwill. Build on that sentiment by asking community businesses and local leaders in your field to sponsor the meal as a symbol of gratitude from the greater community. Ask employees to serve a seated meal as a gesture of thanks. If you’re low on funds, consider hosting a potluck where volunteers and board members can break bread together and share their own culture and traditions.

Your appreciation even needn’t be expensive or grand to make an impression. Nor do volunteers need to be given trinket for their service. Simple, yet authentic acknowledgements of each volunteer’s unique contributions is all it takes.

Bring people together to celebrate as a group is icing on the cake.

Ready to Learn More Ways to Recognize Volunteers and Board Members?

Check out our upcoming 90-minute live webinar NEW! Volunteer and Board Appreciation on a Shoestring – How to Recognize and Inspire Deeper Commitment to Your Cause on February 14 (1pm EST) or February 23 (3 pm EST). We will share simple ways you can keep volunteers and board members motivated and engaged all year long using methods that are creative, inspiring, and easy on the budget.

About The Author

Tobi Johnson is President of Tobi Johnson & Associates, a consulting firm whose mission is to help nonprofit organizations strengthen their volunteer engagement strategy. In 2015, Tobi launched VolunteerPro, an online learning and networking community for leaders of volunteers. Tobi is also the author of Chapter 1 of the anthology Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights for Transforming Volunteer Programs in a Changing World.

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