Subscribers | Charities Management magazine | No. 118 New Year 2018 | Page 1
The magazine for charity managers and trustees

Charities achieving successful direct mail campaigns

There has never been a more important time for charities to develop authentic, honest, engaging and timely campaigns that resonate with existing and potential supporters.

The charity sector has, in recent years, borne the brunt of extremely negative and damaging press. The tragic case of Olive Cooke caused public outrage, forcing legislative change aimed at stopping aggressive sales tactics.

Consumer trust undermined

There’s little doubt the affair undermined consumer trust in the charity sector, highlighting the skewed moral compass of some and the lengths they’ll go to generate funds. The sector also came under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons following significant fines from the ICO for several high profile charities.

New data protection legislation brings a welcome step change preventing fundraisers from sharing personal data. Charities will no longer be able to assume a one-off donation means someone wants to opt-in. Instead, charities will need a better grasp of what makes target audiences tick and importantly, a better understanding of their preferences. More accountability, better transparency and improved engagement are all the name of the game.

But what now for charities looking to raise awareness and boost funds for their particular good cause in an overcrowded marketplace to an arguably more sceptical audience within a tightened regulatory environment?

It’s clear that charities need to rethink their approach and adopt more creative ways to get their message across. The legislative changes have to be seen as a force for good, driving charitable organisations to redefine their values and make positive changes.

The case for direct mail

Perhaps now is the time for charities to take the opportunity to wind back the clock and go back to more traditional promotional methods, such as sending direct marketing by post?

You do need however to be mindful of the new GDPR regulations. Recipients of marketing through the post have the right to opt-out if they wish to be removed from marketing lists. All organisations therefore have a duty of care to ensure recipients’ preferences are managed (as per the existing data protection legislation).

Of course, the days of sending out direct mail to all and sundry are gone but there is a definite opportunity to renew and refocus promotional efforts through meaningful, carefully crafted, targeted offline communications.

This will not only improve donor engagement but will reduce the average cost per response and ultimately, offer a more sustainable approach as wastage is reduced. As any marketer worth their salt will tell you, at the end of the day, the quality of your leads is far more important than the quantity.

It goes without saying that having at your disposal good quality accurate data is absolutely key. Having the correct data establishes your charity’s credibility at the outset with recipients. Moreover, the integrity of your data will directly impact on your return on investment (ROI).

Personalising direct communications

Data also helps you to personalise your direct communications enabling you to tailor what you say to the person you are talking to. The more you can personalise DM, the more effective it will be. A direct mail shot with a letter in the pack addressed to the recipient’s name works far more effectively than an impersonal greeting such as “To the homeowner”.

The strengths of direct mail in terms of its cost effectiveness, targeting, personalisation and its measurability are increasingly being recognised by the charity sector. According to the market research firm Nielsen, DM spending in the charity sector is on the rise. In the year to June 2016, charities increased spending on DM by 3% to £265m. This represented more than half of charities' combined £459m advertising budget that year.

The onus will be on charities and their marketing and/or print providers to develop creative DM campaigns that build connections with donors or potential supporters, rather than constantly asking for money outright.

An Institute of Fundraising survey found that direct mail is welcomed by many and it ranks highly as a preferred communication channel among people. The survey debunks the myth that DM only appeals to an older demographic. The findings show high engagement and response levels to DM among 18-34 year olds. Perhaps in this day and age when much of our lives are conducted online, a tangible piece of addressed mail has a far greater impact?

Striving for creativity

Creativity is an important element in an effective DM campaign that generates responses. But it should not be creativity for creativity’s sake. Instead, it needs to be authentic, honest and compelling. And it should be based on facts – DM creative that is “spun from thin air” is never going to convince a prospect to part with their hard earned cash.

You have to produce something that people want to open, read and action – whether that’s to visit your website, make a one-off donation or sign up to a regular direct debit, attend your fundraising event, or sell raffle tickets, whatever the call to action is.

Charities, by their very nature, are passionate about their cause and the need to make change happen. Enthusiasm and intuition can go a long way, but creative campaigns can fail because they lack a clearly defined aim, a campaign strategy and ways of checking they are on track.

It’s vital to use the right tactic, at the right time, with the right audience. And no matter how much you plan, you need to be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities. Once a particularly innovative campaign theme or action has succeeded, its impact will not be as great next time round – so you need to be mindful of that and continue to create new ways to communicate key messages.

Powerful creative tool

Storytelling is a powerful creative tool at charities’ disposal. Stories can help charities move away from rather “dry” facts and figures, statements of policy, mission and values to instead painting vivid pictures in words that resonate with the target audience and have a real impact.

In order for this to work, you need to think about the audience and ask why they would be interested in what you have to say and consider what you want them to do as a result of reading your story.

People are far more interested and motivated when you hit their emotional buttons. For example, if you are raising money for people with disabilities, talk about Sarah and her specific problems and how your charity has helped her over the years and made a real difference to her life - rather than generalising about your values and work.

Putting DM to the test

Direct mail testing is a critical but often overlooked part of a DM campaign. However, it’s never a good idea to rest on your laurels and the same goes for direct marketing campaigns. It’s important to ask the marketing or print agency you are working with to constantly test the DM. If issues arise, lessons need to be learnt and acted upon before rolling it out again and testing it further. This will incrementally increase the effectiveness of your DM campaign.

Testing should not be a one-off procedure but rather an ongoing process that helps you understand every aspect of your DM campaign and help you to continually improve your results.

You can test all aspects of the campaign - whether it’s testing different lists or the timings and frequency of mailings or testing different creative propositions, key messages, headlines, formats, illustrations or calls to action. You may even want to test whether or not you put a stamp on the envelope which may help with response rates.

Testing can confirm what you already suspected or knew, or it can surprise you with results that may have gone against your intuition and best judgment. If you are just embarking on DM campaigns, you’ll need to do more tests to assess what works and doesn’t work. Once your campaign matures and you have achieved some success, you will be able to reduce the level of testing or test smaller batches of supporters when experimenting with different ideas.

Complex postal market

Another important part of any DM campaign is navigating your way around the complex postal market to find the best price for your delivery requirements. Postage can be expensive and there are a number of different service levels, products and tariffs available. It’s worth asking your print or marketing agency about their postal optimisation services so you benefit from the latest expert advice on reducing postage costs without compromising quality and improving delivery times.

Once your DM campaign is over, it is advisable not just to “pack up shop” but to keep your supporters informed about how much money was raised or the difference their contribution has made.

If the campaign goals were not met, review your practices. Were expectations set too high or were there weak spots in any aspect of the DM? Investing time in engaging your supporters and building a connection with them will grow their loyalty and means that you can hit the ground running in your next campaign.

A creative direct mail campaign can, undoubtedly, be a profitable way to gain supporters and raise money. However, you have to do it right and that means having a proper strategy with realistic and measureable goals as well as a focused approach.

Campaign’s core values

Above all, it’s vital to work collaboratively with your external agencies or partners to deliver great print communications to your target audience. The best DM campaigns come from everyone involved having an in-depth understanding of the core values of your campaign, your key messages, the concepts behind your design and your desired outcomes.

This includes working with an expert printer who understands all aspects of the campaign and can act as a trusted adviser on what works best with your target audience – including the preferred paper quality, finish and overall print solution – which are all important factors in achieving the very best response rates.

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