6 Ways Non-Profits Can Maximize Direct Mail
For the next several blogs we’ll look at how direct mail can help with customer acquisition and retention in different types of industries or verticals, with strategies for each vertical.
The first vertical we’ll examine is one where direct mail continues to play a vital role in list-building, customer interaction, and conversions: non-profits.
Perhaps no other sector uses direct mail as actively as non-profits, and not entirely because of convenience, familiarity, or “we’ve always done it this way” types of arguments.
Non-profits don’t have the luxury of sticking with poor performing strategies simply because of inertia. They have to maximize marketing spend; every campaign has to create lift. Spray-and-pray won’t cut it.
Because it’s targeted and tactical, non-profits like direct mail, and successful non-profits adopt a measured approach to marketing which looks something like this:
- Build a mailing/contact list.
- Segment the list by demographics and/or giving levels.
- Create customized contact plans for each segment.
- Focus on personalized appeals at scale.
- Lead with direct mail and build other media around the mail piece.
- Measure, tweak, and repeat.
Let’s dig deeper into each of these points.
Building the list
Lists are life to non-profits, and clean, updated lists are The Good Life.
Non-profits need to be continually building, cleaning, segmenting, and tweaking their lists. As a result, they have to look at every encounter with the public as a list-building opportunity.
This has its greatest impact on direct mail, but this goes way beyond direct mail.
For example, the website should have a call to action where people receive something of perceived value – anything from an annual report to a chance to participate in a giveaway – in exchange for a name, address, and email. (All three at a minimum, and more if you feel you can get it.)
Social media should direct visitors to a form fill. In-person fundraising events need to have list-building giveaways. E-mail newsletters should encourage sharing, and sharing should include name and address gathering.
Continually gathering names, filtering out the duplicates and junk, and incorporating the new names into the database is a lot of work. But that sort of intentionality pays great dividends when we get to the mailing stage.
Segmenting the list
One of the reasons to maximize your information collection is that it aids personalization.
Multiple studies have shown that personalization is vital to successful direct-mail campaigns – and the more personal the better.
The less information you have on someone on your list, the harder it is to personalize, the less effective your mailing will be, and the lower the return on investment.
It’s a dollar-and-cents thing: There is more opportunity to raise money with a personalized message. Compiling the data as you have the opportunity upfront will save time and effort of sorting through it on the back end.
Given the way many non-profits work, especially smaller non-profits, more money and less effort is optimal – but if you think asking for a lot of information up front will result in a smaller list to work from, you’re right.
However, it’s a smaller, better list. And the people who aren’t on the list because they didn’t want to give you all that information? They probably weren’t great prospects anyway.
Good personalization starts with clean, accurate segmentation, so when you segment a list, consider these various ways of breaking it apart:
- Donor versus lapsed donor versus non-donor
- Donor level
- Marital status
- Household income
- Affinity groups
- What do they like?
- What types of appeals have they responded to in the past?
Again, you’re probably not going to have all this data. But leverage the data, and segment smartly to maximize personalization.
Create custom plans
This should probably be grouped under the previous bullet, but your segmentation should be intentional – that is, there has to be a reason why you’re creating various groups.
You don’t need to segment by gender if your message doesn’t change when targeting men and women. However, you may wish to segment by age if your messaging is specific to certain age groups or generations.
In general, appealing by interests leads to a more effective type of personalization. People who share an affinity for a cause may not be homogenous otherwise. They’re at different life stages and different ages, genders, and ethnicities.
However, you stand a better chance of connecting with people who do support a common cause than females or people ages 55-64.
There’s generally a linear relationship between customer data and appeal success: The more data you have, the more work it takes to assimilate and segment, but the better able you are to create unique profiles that you can target through customized mailings.
Two things ultimately matter when it comes to customer data: How much you have and how much you trust it. And regardless of how much you have, if it’s trustworthy you can proceed from segmentation to planning.
Working the plan
It’s a cliché, but it’s also true that your data is only as good as what you can do with it. In the planning phase you take your data from a sorted-out collection of names, addresses, and other identifiers to something that’s actually going to help you connect with people and raise money.
The planning phase starts with you completing this statement: “I want this campaign to do (answer).” After that, you figure out a plan to use your segmented list to help you get there.
Your plan can be just a couple of steps – “I’m going to send different appeals to current, former, and new donors, based on the value they can derive from being associated with us.” It can also be multiple steps and include revenue goals from each segment. It can be written down or all in your head, locked in on a calendar or more freeform.
The minutiae of the plan is oftentimes less important than the mere fact of having a plan.
Marketing doesn’t have to be hard. But it has to progress one step at a time.
Scale personalized appeals
What is social-media marketing? It’s an attempt to take a personal recommendation and scale it through a social channel.
What are reviews? They’re an attempt to take the recommendation of a person like you and scale it through dissemination over the internet.
An effective direct-mail campaign is no different. It’s an attempt to scale an appeal to a single person by taking every step to make that appeal look like a person-to-person request.
When you think about personalization that way, it moves away from the idea of, “Oh, we’ll just use their first name in the solicitation and we’re good.” It’s much deeper and richer than that.
In general, your appeal should be as personalized as your data will allow, as long as it can be effectively scaled.
You may have so many data points in your personalization scheme that no two letters are alike, and that’s fine. More personalization is a wonderful thing but it also increases the risk for data errors, such as assigning the wrong segmentation to an individual or group. You can greatly reduce this risk by working with a direct mail vendor who can work with multiple personalization points, and even show you personalization tricks you may never have thought of.
Your goals are personalization, scale, and efficiency, and the good news is they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Lead with direct mail
One of the blessings and curses of modern marketing is that there are so many toys in the sandbox, it’s hard to know which one to play with in a given situation.
For non-profits, the issue of paralysis via toy overload isn’t usually as great. But you still have decisions to make about how to work your marketing mix and maintain brand integrity throughout the course of a campaign or appeal.
In general, any appeal should be a multimedia appeal. And if the appeal includes direct mail, it should lead with direct mail, with the mailing supported by social media, email, web, and/or traditional advertising.
Here’s why: Of all those media mentioned, direct mail stands the greatest chance of making quality contact with the intended recipient of the messaging. Direct mail delivers the message into their hands and to their eyeballs, and the other media reinforce the message of the direct-mail piece.
According to “The State of Direct Mail 2022,” a report from Lob and Comperemedia, only 5% of enterprise marketers use direct mail as a standalone tactic. Now, most non-profits are nowhere near enterprise status, but the fact that large organizations see direct mail as part of a mix testifies to the effectiveness of that approach.
Nothing in marketing operates in a vacuum anymore. Integration is the goal.
Measure, tweak, and repeat
There are always lessons learned from a campaign, things to do better, audiences that were missed or addressed ineffectively.
That’s why it’s important to build measurement into your mailings so you can see performance down to a letter-by-letter basis and understand what really worked.
We’ve discussed ways to build in measurement in previous blogs, but consider things like:
- Personalized URLs (PURLs)
- QR codes
- Form fills
- Personalized coupons or redemption codes
A good direct-mail specialist has strategies to help you add these to your mailing at minimal cost – and really, they’re some of the best investments you can make. You’ve created a dynamite mail campaign that crosses media and has a high degree of personalization: Don’t you want to know who acted on it?
Like a lot of marketing measurements, measurements of mailing effectiveness aren’t one-offs. They’re metrics you commit to and track across multiple mailings and campaigns, year over year.
For many non-profits, direct mail is a lifeline. With just a little bit of work, it can be a much better lifeline.
Want to know more about how non-profits can better leverage the power of direct mail? Contact us.
By Dan Topel 3/14/22