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December 22, 2021

Renting a List and Checking It Twice

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I want to tell you about my 7-year-old daughter, Ellie. She’s very kind and genuinely funny. She’s reading chapter books on her own, plays the violin very well, and is an excellent big sister. She’s many things I’m proud of. But there’s at least one place where she falls short — and that is being a direct mail acquisition prospect.

That didn’t stop her from receiving two different direct mail acquisition packages this year! They came in December from two different organizations. I won’t name any names, but we’ll say these nonprofits are not exactly obscure. I have to say my interest was piqued as a father and a fundraiser. What exactly about her caused her to appear in two unrelated acquisition campaigns this year?

I assumed she was on a rental list and probably not a modeled name. Neither organization was a TrueSense client, so I would have to rely on some goodwill to get to the facts. Maybe some genius at another agency cracked the code for Gen-X/Millennial donors: Get their children to guilt them into a response. “Don’t you want to feed people this Christmas, Dad?”

A little bit of LinkedIn searching and a couple of emails later, I had an answer. Development staff at one of the orgs was kind enough to respond with the exact information I sought. Ellie was on the list for Smithsonian Magazine. I told you she is an excellent reader! Alas, she had not subscribed to this magazine on her own. You see, her grandparents can’t pass up a deal and when offered several free magazine subscriptions, they were kind enough to send some our way.

If you’re keeping score so far, we’ve got two direct mail solicitations sent to a demographic not prepared to make a gift, based on an affinity to a magazine that no one really wanted. Nothing against Smithsonian, but we’ll stick to Highlights for the time being. This is an excellent example of some of the lower-hanging fruit for improving direct mail acquisition. If you have tools, you can do a lot better than simply mailing ‘x’ number of people from ‘y’ list. Age tends to be the first place you can optimize your selection. Microtargeting by ZIP within lists can help, as well. We have a few more of these tricks up our sleeve at TrueSense.

My early Christmas present was a cute example argument about list optimization I can use in client meetings from here on. And hey, maybe a strategy worth considering since Ellie’s dad (me) is a new sustainer at one of the organizations. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our fellow fundraisers.

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