My Mailboxes Runneth Over

I was out of the office for a few days, and came back to a stack of requests from nonprofits, seeking donations. In addition, I received several e-appeals from the more frugal organizations. (This isn’t a response to my giving habits; I always give via check because I want to encourage them to mail to me. So I have to assume the “forced” e-communication is an economic decision.)

I noticed a few things as I looked at the mail and e-mails, not the least of which is that mail volume is picking up. February and March seemed very light on appeals, but in April and early May, the mailers are back with a vengeance. This isn’t scientific – just my observation. But with the nation’s thoughts turning to the election (or tuning out messages altogether if the person is overwhelmed or unhappy with the choices), we are going to have some stiff competition in the fall. So getting our requests in the hands of our supporters is paramount all year long. Fourth quarter may not pick up until after the general election. Just thinking out loud here. . . .

Teasers and subject lines
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but it seems a lot of nonprofits are very creative with their e-mail subject lines, but relying on the same-old, same-old for envelope teasers. Both of these elements have the same purpose – to get the recipient to look “inside” and read your offer. Direct mail is still a powerful source of income, and it deserves better than simply regurgitating teasers (and design) from 10 years ago. I know that some of these are repeated year after year and they have worked over and over, but let’s keep testing. Finding a more successful way to say the old message could break through the subconscious of numb supporters and mean some seriously increased net income.

E-mail is colorful. Direct mail is not.
And that’s a shame. There’s a lot of competition in my in-box for attention, but there’s even more in my mailbox. Your mailing can easily get lost amongst the catalogs, newsprint advertising, bills and magazines. Of the 12 pieces of mail sitting on my desk right now, all from nonprofits I donate to, only three are colorful. One is a gift catalog, so it’s oversized as well. The other two make good use of the entire envelope, not just the front with the address. The one has a great photo on the back (billboard) side; the teaser under it is a bit of a disconnect, but other than that … . It also has a QR code printed on the front (this nonprofit has been doing that for quite a while). Clearly it is reaching for a younger demographic without alienating its older, faithful supporters. I hope it’s working, because I think the organization is making smart decisions.

The other one has solid blue printing on the front of the envelope with red accents (and a few unprinted white areas for contrast). On the back, there is a four-color promotion of the premium offer. The back is OK, but the front really grabbed my attention.

Unfortunately, the rest of the envelopes are boring. They shout my least favorite phrase -“Junk Mail!” – so loud, it’s deafening. Not so with e-mails; even the most boring one is still pretty interesting, simply because the photo on top is compelling. Let’s get some of those great photos on our envelopes. Yes, direct mail skews toward an older audience, but that doesn’t mean “boring” is the preferred strategy. Test some color!

Most e-mailers “get it,” but a few don’t.
Just because e-mail is cheap (compared to direct mail, at least), that isn’t an excuse to bombard me. Four e-mails in eight days is too much, in my opinion. I don’t hear from family members that often.

In the old days, we used to mail direct mail to a person until he or she said “Stop!” Then we removed the person from our list (supposedly, in some cases). We figured out that “mailing too much” didn’t have to be all or none, and we started to offer our donors the opportunity to select the mailing frequency that best met their needs. In other words, we “stepped them down,” still mailing to them, but doing it less frequently.

Alas, with the e-mail I looked at, we’re mostly back to the “all or none” mentality. I either get your mail or I unsubscribe. I can’t tell you to only mail me every other week, or just send your e-news. My choices are to unsubscribe, add you to my junk mailers list, create a rule to automatically move your messages to my deleted folder, or ignore the vast majority of your messages. Why aren’t we offering “control” to our donors, instead of assuming they will just take anything we send them?

The good news is, these complaints don’t apply to everyone – and most importantly, they are fixable. Take a look at your e-mail and direct mail – and look at what “the competition” is sending out, too. (You are donating so you get mail, right?!!) How can you make your fundraising messages break out of the clutter, and do even better?

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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