Hairsplitting Traps to Avoid in Direct Mail Fundraising
By Stephen Hitchcock
The key to success in direct mail fundraising is making sure you have a schedule that includes enough mailings to give your donors, and prospective donors, sufficient opportunities to support your organization.
If youre spending all your time trying to make each mailing perfect, you wont be able to get out all your mailings.
The other danger of hairsplitting is that you could end up spending too much money on paper stock, laser personalization, or graphic design. Its unlikely that your more expensive mailing will produce enough income to offset the extra cost or generate enough additional returns to keep your membership or donor database growing.
Spending extra money, testing lots of variablesand hairsplitting in generaldoes make sense for those organizations that mail in large volumes and have very large donor bases. And, if your organization is blessed with lots of donors who send gifts of $100 or more in response to your mailings, then the cost-benefit ratio tips in favor of more elaborate and expensive packages, particularly the use of postage and personalization.
With that in mind, what are some things you can do to avoid hairsplitting traps:
1) Use white offset paper or a standard cream offset stock (and in almost all cases, using recycled paper doesnt cost anymore and helps our environment). Besides costing more, most colored stock or glossy papers make it more difficult to read your letters.
2) Use standard sized envelopes. Yes, the firm I work with uses lots of odd-sized and oversize envelopes when mailing for our clients, but only when were mailing in large quantity or have been able to gang” several projects together. The big disadvantage of non-standard envelopes is that they may fail to meet postal criteria or require additional postage.
3) Forget about using brochures or other inserts. Development staff and executive directors can spend weeks agonizing over the text and design of brochures or inserts. But in most cases these enclosures actually depress response. In direct mail fundraising, the letter is the workhorse of persuasion.
4) Dont offer premiums for acquiring new members. The purpose of direct mail fundraising is to provide a convenient way for enlightened and generous individuals to support causes and endeavors they believe in. In some instances, offering a premium lowers the response rate. Ill will is often created as well since many organizations have a dickens of time sending out premiums in a timely manner.
5) Discontinue the use of business reply envelopes. For your best donors, you can put a postage stamp on the reply envelope, but for almost all your other donors and prospective donors, letting them pay the postage doesnt decrease response and may in fact increase response.
6) Use black ink and use other ink colors sparingly. When using two colors, you can hardly ever go wrong with dark blue for the signature and the organizations logo (i.e. letterhead). Of course, the text of the letter should be in black. Any other color combination is hard to read (especially for older adults), reduces comprehension, and increases the cost of your mailing.
7) Dont worry about the alignment of your teaser. In fact, dont worry about teasers at all. Hardly any of the tests weve conducted for dozens of clients show that the addition of a teaser increases response. And its so easy to be too clever. Stick with your organizations logo (unless it is too elaborate) and the typed” name of the person signing the letter.
8) Save space and reduce confusion by not offering the option of making credit card gifts. Mailings whose reply devices have a line for credit card gifts often get lower response rates. BIG DISCLAIMER: credit cards are helpful if youre inviting your members or donors to participate in a monthly giving program. And many individuals seem to prefer using their credit cards in responding to telephone fundraising and when signing up for special events.
9) Have your executive director or president sign the letter. Dont spend time trying to recruit a celebrity or worrying about which member of the board should sign. Members and donors expect the chief executive officer to know whats going on, to care about the organization, and to be responsible enough to ask them to send a gift. For varietys sake, in the course of a year, you may wish to have another staff member, board member, or other volunteer sign the letter, as long as they dont edit your drafts to death.
10) Do spend more time and more money on your thank-you letters and notes, as long as you dont delay in getting them out. Dont try to save money by sending out your thanks via bulk mail. And dont send out post cards.
Thank you letters are a lovely place to include inserts to keep your members and donors better informed. And I guarantee you dont need to test, or split hairs, over the value of hand-written thank you notes to those who make generous gifts.
This article is excerpted from Stephen Hitchcocks book, Open Immediately! Straight Talk on Direct Mail Fundraising: What Works, What Doesnt, and Why , published by Emerson & Church. For more information, visit www.emersonandchurch.com or call 508-359-0019.
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