I like you so much that I don’t want to see you!

Welcome to Tuesday of individual giving week where we’re looking at different individual giving strategies as a way to replace dwindling pools of government funding. We’re using characters from the movie “Finding Nemo” to look at various individual giving strategies. Monday’s post was all about “Crush the Turtle” and the thrill seeking mentality of special event fundraising. Today, we’re looking at direct mail through the eyes of “Marlin” (the clown fish who was Nemo’s father), who said to “Dory” (the regal tang fish whose voice you recognize as Ellen DeGeneres):

“No, of course I like you. It’s because I like you, I don’t want to be with you. It’s a complicated… emotion.”

When I read this quote it made me think of those direct mail donors who love your organization’s mission so much that they can’t stand the thought of sitting down with you. I’m really not trying to be snarky here . . . there are countless numbers of people who appreciate what you do, want to make a contribution, but don’t want to sit down and chat over a pledge card. It is this reality that has made direct mail and targeted mail so successful for so very long.

Mal Warwick is one of the masters of direct mail. I encourage you to read his article where he does a great job of distilling everything down into 10 of the most important things that you need to know about a successful direct mail program:

  1. It is a “process”
  2. It is all about the long-term
  3. It is about cost-effectiveness and not so much the cost
  4. The list is super important
  5. Making “the offer”
  6. One of the keys is list segmenting
  7. It is focused on an annual giving approach
  8. Test it or you will feel your patience tested
  9. Repeating yourself isn’t a sign of old age, it is the sign of intelligence and discipline
  10. Record-keeping makes all the difference

Ugh! He is a genius. Click here to read more about what he is really saying.

After you’re dazzled by Mal Warwick’s intellect, you need to read what Tom Ahern has to say a week ago about anyone who likes to “dabble” in direct mail:

“Untrained staff and board cannot accurately judge professionally crafted direct mail. It’s impossible. Mailed appeals are a counter-intuitive enterprise, based on neuroscience, decades of testing, empiricism, and acquired skill sets of surprising depth and complexity.”

While Tom isn’t likely making many friends with this statement, he is right in the sense that direct mail is a science. It is sometimes a bizarro universe where up is down and down is up.  I suggest you click here and read what else Tom has to say about non-experts who roll up their sleeves and try to run a direct mail program without expert help.

Look . . . here is the bottom line:

  • Direct mail donors account for something in the neighborhood of one-fifth of charitable contributions,
  • Direct mail is not cheap,
  • Direct mail requires expertise,
  • Direct mail is a great way to “acquire” new donors,
  • Direct mail is constantly evolving,
  • Direct mail requires time, and
  • Direct mail needs someone with an eye for details.

Not having direct mail and targeted mail in your annual fundraising plan is like a handyman going to work without a screwdriver in his toolbox.

So, what is your agency doing with the U.S. Postal Service? How often are your soliciting? How are you using mail to cultivate new prospects or steward existing donors? What metrics are you  measuring to gauge success in the short-, mid-, and long-term? How do you move direct mail donors up your staircase of engagement? Many of you are using mailhouse services, but is anyone using technical writing consultants? If so, how has that worked for you?

Please use the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


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