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June 22, 2017

3 Reasons Your Digital Fundraising Needs Direct Mail

fundraising in the summer

Spring and early summer are hectic seasons at TrueSense — but also my favorite.  I like being busy.  It makes the workday pass quickly so I can get home to the real seasonal drudgery: yard work.

So why is this my favorite time of year?  Because I get to go out into the field and meet Salvation Army officers — to see their work first hand, and to learn from them about their communities and their needs.  The rest of the year, I spend a lot of time looking at spreadsheets and reports.  But visiting Corps and seeing the impact of their programs reminds me why what we do at TrueSense matters: I get to see people being helped.

Is direct mail dead?

During these visits, I get asked a lot of questions about fundraising best practices.  And each year, someone, somewhere will inevitably ask me if direct mail is dead — or close to it — and if it should be replaced by some digital means of communicating with donors.

Short answer?  No.  Direct mail isn’t dead.  And it won’t be in my lifetime, nor my children’s. Although, how we utilize this medium will change over time.

I recall when email began to come of age in the mid-’90s.  Email, it was widely reported, would be the death of direct mail.  It wasn’t.  And now, with countless other digital channels, media is more fragmented than ever.  Yet, direct mail still produces the lion’s share of revenue for nonprofits.  And on the commercial side, I still find direct mail from companies that you would assume were focused on digital.  Amazon, for instance, is one of the most frequent visitors to my physical mailbox.

So why hasn’t direct mail been supplanted?  Why, in many instances, is direct mail resurgent? There isn’t really one answer.

Here are 3 reasons why your successful fundraising program needs both digital and direct mail:

  1. Your donors have a crowded inbox.
    Email inboxes are awash in commercial emails (offering the latest phones or recommending products based on recent purchases), and by messages from one or more of the hundreds of thousands of nonprofits looking for gifts to support their mission.  Mixed in with that are stronger and more stringent filters employed by email providers — attempting to help their customers better organize their inboxes. This often means that messages considered “promotional” by the provider (like Google) are automatically filed outside of the user’s primary inbox — where your donor may not see it.
  2. Online fraud is a real concern.
    It’s easy to create an email that can look like it’s from The Salvation Army — or any organization.  It can be difficult to know if an email you receive is really from a nonprofit you support, a company you shop with, or your own bank.  It can make people hesitant to click through to a campaign landing page.  Direct mail carries a certain air of legitimacy, due to the cost of production and postage.
  3. Geographic population influences online fundraising success.
    Beyond email, the current siren song is “content marketing.”  And this can be an effective tool for nonprofits, so long as you have a large enough prospective audience to make the cost-to-revenue numbers make sense.  But for most chapter-based organizations — nonprofits with limits on the areas where they can accept and receive gifts — there may not be a large enough population or sufficient online activity around keywords related to your mission to generate necessary revenue.

Solution: Work in all channels smartly and thoughtfully

The more you can be in front of your donor “where they are,” the more likely you are to be top-of-mind when they are ready to make a gift.

In short, direct mail will not be going away anytime soon.  How it’s deployed (and to whom) will change as donor preferences and the cost of production change.  But it’s likely to continue playing a key role in how you raise support for your mission for many years to come.

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