Direct Mail versus Junk Mail

For years I’ve had to explain to my family what I do for a living. The minute I say that I partner with nonprofits and mail to their donors or prospective donors my relatives say something along the lines of, “oh it’s YOU who sends me that junk mail!”

Excuse me, I do not send JUNK mail, I send direct mail.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Direct mail is targeted to people who may find the information in the mailing of interest. Junk mail is not targeted to its audience, and often falls on deaf ears because people have no interest in the product or service.

Take this, for example. (I intentionally cropped the top so you can’t see the logo of the company.)IMG_9340.JPG

This most definitely got my attention. Let me give you an idea of proportion:

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This thing is huge. It was folded in half to fit into my mailbox, and even then the box couldn’t entirely shut. (The dimensions are 9.5×13 inches. I know, fellow geeks, because I measured it.)

The mailer had to pay the flat postage rate (which is more expensive than letter rate), put it on heavy card stock to make it through USPS machines and made sure the four-color glossy print did not rub off on pieces around it. In other words, this was not cheaply produced or mailed.

Only problem? We replaced every window in our house last year as a part of a major remodel. So…thank you for the information on how much I could save by replacing my windows with your product, but I don’t need your product.

Junk mail.

They could have possibly avoided this by pulling permit information and suppressing everyone on their file who had a permit pulled within the last 24 months. Better yet, they could try to target those who had a remodel but did not have windows replaced, though I’m not sure if that level of data is available on publicly filed permits.

How about select people whose houses were built or remodeled 20 years ago, and then mail to them to consider window replacements? They would end up mailing fewer people, sure, but the people they mail would more than likely actually be interested in their product. Costs would decrease, response rate would increase, and all would be right with the world.

Unfortunately many of us are very familiar with junk mail. When’s the last time you got a piece of direct mail? I got one recently, and I’ll tell you about it soon.

 

Top Talents of Nonprofit Staff and Teams

TeamIn my career, I have worked with dozens of nonprofits. From those raising millions of dollars annually to those working to raise their first $1,000, I’ve seen many different business models of how organizations are working to change the world. Some rely heavily on events and peer-to-peer fundraising, others were built on direct-response fundraising, while others rely primarily on major gifts from the founding of the organization.

I’ve learned that there are some traits of nonprofit staff members that are the same, no matter the mission or the size of the organization.

  1. Nonprofits are run by passionate, compassionate, engaging people. Back in my agency life when I had a mix of for-profit and nonprofit clients, my nonprofit clients were my favorite people. There is something about what drives people to work for a place that is trying to change the world, not just please shareholders, that makes them especially engaging. (No offense to those who have to please shareholders.)
  2. People who work at nonprofits are innovative and creative problem-solvers. They have to be. They are often tasked with meeting impossible budgets with few resources, turning a dollar into ten, working with less-than-ideal tools. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and scarcity is her little sister.
  3. There is no shortage of business savvy at nonprofits. I have heard that nonprofits are the “B” team, those who couldn’t cut it in the business world. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What motivates a person to work for a nonprofit has little to do with a purported lack of abilities but with making a difference and, for some, leaving a legacy.
  4. Nonprofit teams need to be lean, their staff multi-talented. “Other duties as assigned” takes on a new meaning when working at a nonprofit. From the administrative assistant who doubles as a volunteer coordinator to the prospect researcher who runs an employee giving campaign, staff members are often asked to stretch out of their comfort zone to meet a short-term need.
  5. The seasonal nature of fundraising makes staffing challenging. Considering that most money is raised in the last quarter of the year, nonprofits cannot afford to hire a full-time person to meet a 3-month need. Donation processing, stewardship calling, event planning and follow-up are all at their busiest at the same time of year for most nonprofits. Unless every nonprofit has a team of trained volunteers waiting in the wings, organizations struggle to meet these needs each year.

By using consultants, nonprofits can expand their teams seasonally, build strategies without paying for a strategist year round, and rely on people with different skills for short periods of time. Yet at the same time, consulting fees are line-itemed on 990s, as if relying on consultants is a strike against a nonprofit.

For those who are committed to nonprofit work as a volunteer, a donor, board member or others, learn about the needs of your favorite nonprofit. Are those needs being met internally, and at what cost? Does it make more sense to outsource some elements to experts who can flex their time seasonally? Consultants should be seen as an extension of the internal team, just as committed to the mission and results.