Did you know that 40% of all giving happens in the month of December? A thoughtful and well crafted year-end appeal can help increase the revenue your organization generates during the height of this year’s giving season.
Giving Tree Associates’ Amy Schiffman, Lizzy Sternberg and Lisa Sheridan recently joined us for a webinar in which they shared best practices in preparing for and maximizing the return on your direct mail campaign.
In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:
Steven: Welcome to today’s webinar, The Secret to a Successful Direct Mail Campaign. My name is Steven Shattuck, I’m of the VP of marketing here at Bloomerang. As always I’ll be moderating today’s little discussions. Just some housekeeping items before we get started, just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and that recording will be made available to all of you later this afternoon just as soon as I can get it uploaded to YouTube. I’ll be sending that out to everyone. So if you have to leave early or if you want to maybe share the content with someone else in your office or at your organization you’ll be able to do that just a little later on this afternoon. I’ll also be sending out the slides as well.
As the presenters are speaking please feel free to use the chatbox right there on your webinar screen. I’ll see those questions and so will the ladies from Giving Tree. We’ll be able to answer just as many questions as we can toward the end of the presentation during the formal Q&A session. So don’t be shy at all about sending any questions or comments our way. Hopefully you’re hearing this just fine, if you’re not we tend to have a little bit better quality by phone. So maybe if you’re listening by your computer speakers you might have a little bit better audio if you dial in by phone. So just check my e-mail from earlier this morning for dial-in info if you think you need to do that.
Just in case you’re new to Bloomerang, maybe if this is your first of our Thursday webinars or you don’t know too much about Bloomerang, we are a fundraising database software program. You can learn all about us at bloomerang.co on our website. Maybe you’re in the market for software if you’re interested in that product at all. Just a little short plug there just in case you don’t know what Bloomerang is we do have some awesome software in addition to all these great webinars that we do every Thursday. I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guests. They are Amy Schiffman, Lizzy Sternberg, and Lisa Sheridan over from Giving Tree Associates. Hey there, ladies. How’s it going?
Amy: We’re good. Thank you.
Steven: Sure. Thanks so much for being here, this is fun. I don’t remember the last time we had sort of a panel of experts. I’m really looking forward to the presentation. I had a chance to look through the slides and everyone listening along is in for quite a treat especially if you’re getting ready to do a direct mail campaign. One of the last reviewers who gave us feedback on our webinar said that I talk too much in the beginning so I’m not going to talk any more. I’m going to hand things off to these super-smart ladies. They are going to tell you a little bit more about themselves and give you some awesome tips for direct mail. So, ladies why don’t you take it away.
Amy: Thank you very much. Thank you for having us. I’m going to tell you a little bit about Giving Tree Associates and you’ve produced the topic and I’m going to hand it over to my colleagues Lizzy and Lisa. Giving Tree is a little over six and a half years old. We a firm based in Chicago. We are a team of eight. Really we do all things fundraising and leadership development. We manage annual campaigns, capital campaigns, endowment campaigns. We have a fairly strong focus on major gift development and strategic campaign planning.
We also do a lot of direct main. Direct mail tends to be one of the key tools that we use to communicate with a specific segment of our donor base or a prospect base. The team here has a lot of experience helping clients move their direct mail programs to the next level. I would love to get a sense of who on this call has some direct mail experience. So if you wouldn’t mind saying “some,” “none,” “lack” in the chat box we can get a quick sense of… here we go. So a little of each. The beginners, finishing our fist year, lack. So hopefully we are going to be able to offer something to everyone. I think the overwhelming statistic here is that most of us have had some experience.
How many joined this webinar because you have a direct mail project coming up in the near future? Just give me a yes or a no or a maybe. Okay, so a lot of yes which is great. We always feel when the holidays are rolling around December is a really popular time, even November, to get a direct mail piece out. We love that this is sort of timed well for your next big project. Some of us are sending thousands of pieces each year, some of us are sending hundreds, some of us are just beginning. But if you take the one chance, or maybe you send out two to three pieces a year, you really have to speak to a specific segment of your donor population to share its impact and really craft a personalized message, we better take the time to do it right. So we have nine tips for you that every development professional should keep handy during their prep. Time for a direct mail appeal. I’m going to turn it over to Lizzy who is going to get us started with tip one.
Lizzy: Well, thanks for joining us everyone. Tip number one is creating a timeline. This is very basic but before you start working on your direct mail campaign it is really important that you put down on paper everything you need to do to make it successful. You might as where to begin, how do you even begin creating a timeline? You’re going to do that by working backward. What is a realistic drop date for your direct mail campaign? What is the date that you want it to hit your donor’s doorstep? There’s a lot of you that are working on your appeal right now. You might want to consider things like Thanksgiving, what holidays are coming up, things going on in your community. Do you want the direct mail to be dropped before Thanksgiving or do you want it to be dropped after? You probably don’t want to send it out the week of Thanksgiving so it gets lost in a pile of mail in the midst of holiday preparation. Make sure you’re thinking about all the different things that are coming up before you choose a drop date then work backwards from there.
I’m going to talk a little about prepping for you timeline. What you want to do is put everything down on paper, every detail that you need to do to get this direct mail piece out down to stuffing and stamping your envelopes if you’re doing that yourself and a target deadline for getting those things done. If you stray from it, it is not a big deal. What the timeline will help you do is keep on track and make sure you’re not losing track of any of the important things that need to get done in order for it get out. Some of those things might be preparing the list of people who will receive the mailing. Everyone has segments of lists that you’re sending this direct mail to. You have to pull it out of your database and you have to write information on those lists for those people.
Something else you want to think about is getting quotes from your printer or your mail house that you’re using. Also, don’t underestimate the time it actually takes to create the letter itself and the messaging. Your draft one probably will go through five or six revisions. You’ll want to send it to all the staff in your department and possibly even in different departments depending on what kind of message you’re sending out to your group. Make sure give the appropriate staff enough time to review that.
Then you’ll need to think of a collateral you need like a punch card and put that together. If you are using a print house, that’s great, but if you’re not and you’re doing it in-house you’ll want to think about how much time you’ll need to make that happen. You will probably need to build in extra time for printer errors and manual coordination as well. Think about how big your staff is and if they have time to help you stuff and stamp envelopes. If you don’t have a big enough staff or you don’t have enough stuff in-house maybe you want to schedule a couple days to have volunteers come in and help you do that. That’s really important to think about.
Another important piece of this too is including time for your board and staff to include hand-written personal notes for appropriate constituents. Maybe not every letter you send out will have one but most should. I’ll speak more about the importance of personal notes and what you’ll need to do with that but what I want to talk about here specifically is how to build that into a timeline. There’s two ways that you can go about coordinating these efforts. The first is, it’s simple and won’t take as much time. You can invite your board and your staff to come in and sit in your conference room, order dinner, and divvy up all the personal notes that need to be written so that your board and staff can get those done right away and you can send them out as soon as your right after all the personal notes are done.
Option two is a bit more strategic. What you’ll need to do is think about all the personal notes that need to be written and who the person is that’s going to be writing them. Before you send anything to the printer you’ll want to coordinate those lists so the person that is writing the note can receive a stack of their letters. What I mean by that is the letter itself is ready to go out and it’s stuffed, it’s stamped, it’s ready for the person, all they need to do is write down on the note card that you’re going to put in there and slip it in. In order to do that you’ll need to coordinate beforehand. You’ll also want to give anyone who is writing those notes more time than just a night or two. We’re all busy and prioritizing something like that might be hard. You might want to give somebody a week or so in order to do that. That just requires filling that into your timeline.
The next thing I want to show you very quickly is how to structure your timeline. If you’re looking at the slide you’ll notice that it’s going to be simple, it’s just an easy Excel document. You’ll have four basic things that you want to track. What is the target date for completion? When do you need to get something done in order for the direct mail piece to be on time? What’s the task that you’re talking about? Is it creating a draft? Is it pulling a list from your database? Who’s responsible for doing that? Throughout the process you’ll track the status. One great way to do this would be through a Google doc. So if multiple people on your development team are managing this project then everyone can see where everyone is with their task and their timeline.
I’m going to move onto tip number two which is messaging and content. This is the most important aspect of your direct mail appeal. When you go into this you probably want to think about story that you’re going to tell and the audience you have. By that I mean that you might want to think about doing targeted messaging. You don’t want to send one letter to everyone in your database. You’ll probably want to look at your population and segment that out. I’ll talk about that a little more in a minute.
First I’m going to go to personalizing. We cannot stress this enough; making your letter is personal is extremely important. Don’t say “greetings” or “dear friends,” let your donors know that you know who they are. One way to do this is through including personal notes, like I’ve mentioned before, on as many letters as possible. Try to include all current and frequent donors in this list, but what’s really important is the quality of the note and who it’s written by. So making sure the right relationship owner is writing that note. If you’re sending thousands of letters each year it might not be possible for every letter to have a note. Think about the most important constituents in your community; your donors, your key volunteers, people helping you build relationships. Be aggressive about how many notes you want to get written but also realistic.
Something that can help you write more notes on your letter is having your board and staff help you with this process. I’m going to give you a few tips that help you think about that. Asking your board president to write notes for everyone on your board of directors and your development committees, that person has the relationship will all those people. They can take that 30 or 40 notes on. You might also be able to ask your board and development committee to write notes for anyone whose name they submitted for the mailing. Also more about that is a few slides under the preparation and expansion. Ask all your staff members whether they are development related or not to pitch in and write notes. Maybe you say I’m going to give everyone a week and I’m going to give them 50 notes and I’m going to say write ten a day and pop those in the mail. That goes back to building your timeline. It is important that everyone plays a part in this.
The reason why is because every single one of my clients has seen an increase in their revenue from direct mail because of personal notes. When we go back to look at the data and say here are all the donors for our direct mail appeal this year almost always it’s 90% or higher of those donors are personal note writers. Even if they went online and flipped through your email that you sent, they still received that letter and that personal touch from you. They might not have filled out the pledge card because that wasn’t the way they wanted to make their donation, but they went online and did it later. Definitely think about including personal notes in your direct mail pieces if you haven’t done that before.
Another piece of information that is important is targeted messaging which I mentioned in my introduction. You definitely don’t want to be sending one letter to every person in your database because you have different populations that you’re speaking to. I’m going to use an example to illustrate this. If you’re talking about a university sending out direct mail, they have alumni, they have parents, they have grandparents, they have teachers, and general donors. The message is going to be different to all those different groups. For example, if you’re sending to an alumni you might want a nostalgic message about being on campus and how much their time meant. For parents of students you might want to send a picture of the student on campus enjoying themselves and a note about how their dollars are impacting educational programs. Really think about who your populations are and how you segment to them. I want to stress here not to underestimate targeted messaging. It might be easy to send one letter out to everyone but research shows it’s proven that segmented mailing is more successful and will yield better results for you.
Now that you know who your populations are, the important part of messaging is to tell a story and show your constituents how your organization impacts the community. Your goal is to get the reader past the first or second line of the direct mail piece. Here’s an example of a strong opening line, this is what I like to do, I like to write from the perspective of somebody of, and you can go out into your community and find this person, who is impacted by your organization and tell their story. “Dear Samantha, on October 2, 2014, our son Ben was 151 days old and 151 was the number of days he had spent in the NICU at Children’s Hospital.” This line doesn’t tell you much about the organization but what it does do is it pulls at your heart strings. It makes you want to more about that family. Fundraising is all about storytelling and that is how people will feel connected to your organization and mission and understand the impact that you’re having on the community. Make sure that that opening line is very strong.
Once you’ve grabbed your reader you’ll want to show the impact with the hard facts, the statistics that you have. Statics that you’re showing should show the relevance and importance of your organization. Here are some stats that I’ve made up to prove this point; 52% of families with babies in the NICU are on Medicaid. 100% of them are using our services. This tells me two things about this made up program; that it’s needed and that it’s effective in the population. The people are in need of this program and the people that are in need of it are using it. Once you’ve done that show the donor how their dollar can be translated to make the services happen. You could do that by saying $300, or whatever the dollar amount, supports one family in the NICU of Children’s Hospital for one month. This tells your donor exactly what they need to do to help your organization succeed.
Now once you’ve told your story and proven the value of your organization, you need to specifically state what you what you want from them and this will your call-to-action. Use words like “please join us in making a contribution today” in the letter so they know exactly what you want them to do. On the pledge card make sure you ask for a specific amount and list their giving history.
This brings me to our next tip, tip number three: list preparation and expansion. This is arguably one of the most critical parts of the direct mail process. You want to make sure the right people are getting the right letters. In order to do that, you’ll think about the targeted messaging conversation that we just had. Targeted messaging is proven to be better, how do you do that? You do it by segmenting your list and finding what populations in your data exist. So be sure whoever manages your database has updated and flagged constituent information recently. To illustrate this I’ll go back to the university example that I used before. Every year at a university a group of students become alumni. When that happens you need to mark in your database as such and that way you can target them. Same with current parents. When new students come to your university every year a whole new batch of parents come along with that. Are they entered into your database and are you targeting them?
It is very important to make sure your information is up to date and that you’re list is segmented that way. If you don’t track this information currently, make sure you sit down and talk with your team about how you can do it. It might not be ready for this direct mail piece but it could be ready for future direct mail pieces. I really urge you to think about how you’re tracking your data and how you’re using that effectively.
There are three ways that this tip, preparation and expansion, is going to increase the return on your direct mail piece each year. The first is through adding constituents to your database. The more people in your database, the more donations you’re probably going to get. Make sure your board of directors and your development team members are submitting names and addressed to your database each year.
The second part of how you’re going to increase your return is through using your data effectively. Ask for increased gifts from every donor that you’re sending a letter to. Make sure you look at their giving history as well. No one is going to remember what they paid to your organization last year when you sent out your direct mail piece. You can remind them by making sure the pledge card includes a line about their last gift and asking for an increased one. With this tactic you will almost never get a decreased gift. If you do not list their giving history, they are not going to remember and there is a 50/50 chance that will give more or less than they did the year before. I will show you an example of what this looks like in the next tip, so in a few slides.
The third way you’re going to increase your return is through personal notes, which I mentioned before. We talked about how all my clients have increased their returns from these personal notes when they’ve enlisted this tactic. Make sure you take that personal edge and take that time to add a hand-written note along to all of your letters.
The last point I’ll make about list preparation and expansion is probably the most important one and arguably one of the most important points throughout this webinar. It is ensuring your major donors and prospects are not on this list. Direct mail is for your lower-level givers. It is a transactional relationship that you have with them. Your major donors need more attention and not to be solicited this way. You’ll need to build relationships with them and create personal stewardship plans. You’re probably asking “Well how do I know where to cut that off? What dollar amount?” That’s going to look different for every organization, but in general you’ll want to take your top 10 to 20% of donors off of this list. Instead of sending them a direct mail piece, send them a holiday card and write a meaningful note on there. Maybe a little bit longer than what you’re doing for the direct mail pieces. Then follow-up in a month or two, take them out to lunch, learn what interests them about the organization and drives them to be involved. They’ll appreciate that personal touch and probably become more invested in your organization.
Now I’m going to head over to tip number four, my last tip before I hand it over to Lisa, which is design and layout. You’ll want to think about something that will catch your reader’s eye but is also very easy to read and also has your organization’s branding. This will also be a bit of cost to produce it so we will want to consider those factors here as well. The first part of this I’m going to talk about is updating your letterhead. Make sure that your current list of board members and staff are listed on your letterhead and you’re not using an old version. Like I mentioned before, you should probably have your board members write personal notes. If you invited a new board member on this year and they’re not listed on the letterhead then you ask them to write personal notes on a letter they’re not listed on, it could feel strange to them. Just make sure you’re always updating that. If you’ve moved recently or you’ve done a re-brand you don’t want to be using old letterhead either. Maybe use that old letterhead for some other marketing material that you’re sending out or something else, but this direct mail piece is one of the one touches, depends on how many you send out a year, that you have with your donors at this level so you want to make sure everything is up-to-date.
As we talked about countless times, you’ll want to customize your pledge cards. Here I’m going to jump into showing you an example of what that looks like. If you look up in the left-hand corner you’ll notice “Phil and Claire Dunphy.” This is a personalized pledge card that lists their contact information. Also underneath that it says “Thank you for supporting the 2014 campaign with a gift of $500, please consider a gift of $550.” This explicitly says that they gave to your campaign last year and that you’re asking them to this year. Some people didn’t get to read the whole letter because, let’s be honest, a lot of people know they are going to donate to your organization, they are waiting for this letter. They throw the letter aside and they get the letter but they still know that you know who they are and this reminds them of what their gift was and what you want them to do. If you’re not sending this to someone who has made a gift recently, maybe you’ve added some new people to your database who have never given, you can remove that line on the pledge card and you can leave it blank.
The last thing about design and layout that I want to discuss is cost. Many of our clients worry about producing a pledge card and how much it’s going to cost to design it and the letterhead and everything else that goes in with the direct mail piece; making sure the collateral looks nice. This pledge card that we created was put together in Word. It’s not the fanciest designed but it’s clean, it’s professional, it’s clear. If you send it to a printer and tell them what your budget is, they will pick a stock that makes sense for you. Now that we’re on the topic of cost and stock and paper, this segues perfectly into tip number five which is going to be postage. I’m going to hand this over to Lisa and she will discuss this more.
Lisa: Great. Thank you so much Lizzy. As we well know there is two ways to send direct mail. We can send a snail mail appeal or an electronic appeal. Some of you are going to do both. For those of you who are going to send a snail mail appeal, we’re going to spend a minute talking about postage and then we’ll move on and talk about an e-campaign. When we send a snail mail appeal, for many of us a good portion of our budget for that appeal goes toward postage. We want to make sure we understand the postage options available so we can maximize our budget. There are three types of postage we will want to consider: there’s non-profit, first-class, and standard.
Let’s say that we’re sending our direct mail piece in a number 10 envelope, which is standard and the whole thing weighs under an ounce, which is also pretty standard. We can send it a few ways. So if we send it first class, to qualify we can send a minimum of 500 pieces, our mailing will be delivered within 2 to 4 days, and go based on 1,000 pieces that are in this number 10 envelope that are under an ounce, we are looking at paying about $400 for that mailing. If we want to go with standard, to qualify we have to send a minimum of 200 pieces, our mailing will be delivered within 7 to 10 days, based on that 1,000 in the number 10 envelope that weigh under an ounce, we’re looking at about