By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on September 2, 2013

As fewer physical letters are sent, each one is making more impact – far more than email makes.

I do everything online. Everything. When I was asked if direct mail remains king or is dead, my quick response was scorn.

Then, a direct mail guru from Olive Crest spoke about their campaigns that go out every six weeks or so. I was trained that two mailings a year was the max.

When an organization has used a strategy for 40 years and impacted 60,000 kids – as Olive Crest has – then it's worth looking closer into how it's getting that done.

On average, a first direct-mail campaign sent blindly to people unfamiliar with your organization receives a 2 percent response rate. If you send out 1,000 letters, you hope that 20 recipients are moved to send you a check. Postage alone for that mailing will cost in the vicinity of $400. You really have to hope that the 20 new donors bring in at least that much.

You have to ask, if all you are doing is recouping your costs, why bother?

The answer is that it is an investment. The strategy is to retain at least 70 percent of your mail donors in a second mailing and every mailing thereafter. Fourteen of your first 20 – with good stewardship – will support your cause again. Add 20 new donors to last year's 14 returning donors and you now have 34 donors. Then 44; and so on. It's like reliving the section of Mr. Heckman's economics class when he explained the power that compound interest has on investments.

Many companies forgo mail to use their resources elsewhere. The decrease in mail in itself is creating opportunities for local nonprofits. With less mail cluttering mailboxes, people are actually more receptive to mail. While opening rates for email keep going down, the impact of snail mail is rising. According to the Direct Mail Association, a print letter is 30 times more effective than spam when it comes to getting a response.

Rather than completely eliminating print mail in favor of digital, think about how direct mail (and its compounding numbers) can help your mission. Your message may go further in this less cluttered medium.

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