“fh” --- Is it safe to say that your proposed “mail campaign,” new to the twenty year old organization, and new to you, will be the solicitation of “cold” contacts? It would seem so, since being in existence for all of those years the organization would have had special and routine mailings made on a regular basis to previous donors for renewals and would have made first time requests for money to an identified prospect base having some connection or knowledge of the organization. Otherwise, it would appear that you are proposing the classic “Direct Mail” cold approach to prospects who have no identifiable relationship with the organization.
Such efforts are often worthwhile. It could be a way for you to reach people who are not part of the constituency of the organization. You would do that by soliciting prospects whose names have been acquired from other organizations’ Annual Report donor listings, or a mailing list house.
But, such direct mail campaigns are not for all organizations, so do heed the good counsel from Katie, Rick, and David regarding the use of professional counsel having a proven track record, being very careful, practical, and realistic about the selection of acquired mailing lists, and to be ready to accept that the rate of return of your first mailing most likely will be low --- even of no consequence --- not to mention the good chance that the dollars received will not cover expenses. And this could continue for several mailings.
The mailing campaign being new to the organization and to you, prompts me to suggest that before you go too far in the development of the program, you should step back and ask yourself --- and the organization’s leadership --- several critically important questions.
(1) Are we ready to accept the strong possibility that the “making-a-profit” point will not be reached with the first direct mail appeal --- and that it might even take four or five such mailings to make a net profit? (In other words --- that a sound direct mail program is a long-term investment, and is not a quick and easy way to raise money.)
(2) What are the chances that this venture --- even in the long term --- will produce a number of donors and raise an amount of money to make the effort worthwhile? (Those projections must make a meaningful impact on what the organization needs to help balance their budget.)
(3) Will we be certain that our direct mail campaign will not be so time-consuming and resource draining that we allow other productive fund-raising activities to be deferred or abandoned --- or not established at all? (It is easy to become enamored with such a labor intensive and impersonal program, rather than engage in the slogging process of identifying prospects, recruiting volunteer solicitors, and personally asking for money.)
(4) Will there be steps planned to maximize the chances that the first time direct mail donors’ gifts will be repeated the following year and that we we will work to obtain increased gifts from them --- and that those donors possessing higher giving potential will be identified for future personal contacts? (It simply does little good to have these entry-level donors solicited in the same way year after year as they were in the first place. One human being speaking to another who has a relationship with the organization will bring in far more money than a brochure, letter, and return envelope.)
“fh” --- Depending on the responses to those questions, you should be far better able to determine if a direct mail campaign for the organization is really the thing to do at this time, if at all. Not all non-profits are able to reap the proven benefits of a well-planned direct mail program. Your good judgment is required to understand the real value and position of direct mail fund-raising in the development plans of the organization. Sometimes the best opinion we development professionals can give to the organizations we serve, is when we say “no, this is not the thing to do.”
However, let’s say that do plan to proceed with your proposed direct mail campaign. To better develop your program, you should look at what other similar organizations have done and learn from them.
From others who have experience with direct mail, you can work to answer the most basic of questions:
(a) Who will supply the lists?
(b) What are the demographics?
(c) How many names will be required?
(d) How much will it cost?
Comparisons with others who have made similar direct mailings will allow you to rate and evaluate their solicitation materials before you go too far with your own concept. I believe this to be extremely important, as a great deal of the money spent in direct mail is for the “packaging” of the solicitation material.
You can also use other organizations’ examples to learn:
--- rates of return gifts to what they mailed;
--- when the “break even” points were achieved;
--- total expense budgets
As an essential part of your plan, I suggest there be a provision for a solid program in place for effective management and servicing of the program: Receiving, prompt acknowledging, posting, reporting, etc. of gifts.
You might want to be alert to the possibility that the entire program could meet the initiatives of foundation or corporate prospects for sponsorship or underwriting. The latter especially, for all of the visibility and promotion the solicitation pieces could exhibit to the pubic with tasteful, but effective, corporate logos and other credits.
Of course, you will ensure that the direct mail program will maintain and support the image of tradition and decorum the organization has built, or is intending to project.
Lots to think about, to be sure. So much indeed, regarding mail rates, stamps or metered postage, length of letters, copy content and message, personalizations, suggested contribution amount, possible membership levels and related benefits, enclosures, best mailing months, etc.
That’s why I believe direct comparison learning from other organizations is essential. And I recommend you read an excellent treatment of direct mail by the direct mail fund-raising authority --- Mal Warwick
Best of all good luck,