Yet again: is direct mail dead?

One of my favorite pointless questions is “Is direct mail dead?” I’m glad to find someone else who also thinks it’s a dumb question. Ken Burnett says the question is “fatuous and redundant” at Is direct mail finally dead?


Ken’s take:



At its heart direct mail fundraising is not about direct mail. It’s about one individual writing to another to describe an issue or cause they both care passionately about. If it is to work well, that written communication has to be engaging, compelling, urgent and important. Which means it has to be very well crafted. We may use technology and the postal service to convey our message simultaneously to hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people all at the same time. So what? That’s just a technical organisational challenge.

There’s some common sense. The truth is, direct mail might be dead, or maybe comatose, for some fundraisers whose pool of donors are younger or otherwise not responsive to mail. But for most, it’s not dead — it’s not even particularly sick.


Fundraising is about connecting with people. You find the medium that connects you to the right people. If it works, it’s not dead. Asking if direct mail is dead without first knowing a lot of other information is getting it backwards.


Comments

6 responses to “Yet again: is direct mail dead?”

  1. The value is in the question. I can always tell a lot about a person by the questions they ask or don’t ask. I love that you and the post from Ken puts the emphasis in the right place. Frankly any medium is dead that can not cast the vision clearly, concisely and compellingly. Blaming the medium, direct mail, on our short fall is easier than looking inwardly.

  2. The value is in the question. I can always tell a lot about a person by the questions they ask or don’t ask. I love that you and the post from Ken puts the emphasis in the right place. Frankly any medium is dead that can not cast the vision clearly, concisely and compellingly. Blaming the medium, direct mail, on our short fall is easier than looking inwardly.

  3. I agree, direct mail never works for people that don’t know how to work it.
    The one thing I come across most is that when using direct mail, or any marketing tactic, make sure you have an idea of what the Long Term Value of a new customer is, and what is an acceptable cost to acquire these new customers. Some people new to direct marketing use direct mail one time and say it didn’t work for them because the amount of initial sales from new customers didn’t pay for the mailing. Yet if they figured in how much a new customer would spend over the next year or years, they may find out that the effort was hugely successful.
    If you are looking for direct mail marketing statistics to plan a successful marketing campaign, two studies are available from the National Mail Order Association, NMOA. They are, the DMA Statistical Fact Book, http://www.nmoa.org/catalog/dma/dma_stats.htm and the Response Rate Trends Report, http://www.nmoa.org/catalog/dma/dma_response.htm

  4. I agree, direct mail never works for people that don’t know how to work it.
    The one thing I come across most is that when using direct mail, or any marketing tactic, make sure you have an idea of what the Long Term Value of a new customer is, and what is an acceptable cost to acquire these new customers. Some people new to direct marketing use direct mail one time and say it didn’t work for them because the amount of initial sales from new customers didn’t pay for the mailing. Yet if they figured in how much a new customer would spend over the next year or years, they may find out that the effort was hugely successful.
    If you are looking for direct mail marketing statistics to plan a successful marketing campaign, two studies are available from the National Mail Order Association, NMOA. They are, the DMA Statistical Fact Book, http://www.nmoa.org/catalog/dma/dma_stats.htm and the Response Rate Trends Report, http://www.nmoa.org/catalog/dma/dma_response.htm

  5. I love this post and agree whole-heartedly. As much as I love writing copy for websites, emails, and other online fundraising efforts . . . I know direct mail is vital to the financial health of the nonprofit sector.
    I’ll briefly share something I read about a few years ago which also documents the health and importance of direct mail.
    Two surveys – conducted in 1995 and then again in 2007 – of donors yielded the following conclusion: ”As Americans enter retirement, what matters most is whether or not they have the time and the discretionary income to respond to direct-mail solicitations.”
    It debunked the theory that as people over the age of 65 “pass away,” the number of direct-mail donors also declines. Instead, as people get older they begin to respond to direct-mail so the numbers of respondents were relatively constant.
    These surveys were prior to the recession, but direct-mail campaigns were getting similar response rates at the time. And I believe their conclusions are still valid.
    For your readers who like numbers . . . “in both surveys 68 percent of direct-mail respondents were aged 60 and older. The percentage of donors aged 40 to 59 years who responded to direct mail remained the same at 23 percent. And the average age of direct-mail donors increased slightly from age 65 in 1995 to 68 in the new survey.”
    I ditto the statement that direct-mail is not dead.
    Karen Zapp, Fundraising Copywriter

  6. I love this post and agree whole-heartedly. As much as I love writing copy for websites, emails, and other online fundraising efforts . . . I know direct mail is vital to the financial health of the nonprofit sector.
    I’ll briefly share something I read about a few years ago which also documents the health and importance of direct mail.
    Two surveys – conducted in 1995 and then again in 2007 – of donors yielded the following conclusion: ”As Americans enter retirement, what matters most is whether or not they have the time and the discretionary income to respond to direct-mail solicitations.”
    It debunked the theory that as people over the age of 65 “pass away,” the number of direct-mail donors also declines. Instead, as people get older they begin to respond to direct-mail so the numbers of respondents were relatively constant.
    These surveys were prior to the recession, but direct-mail campaigns were getting similar response rates at the time. And I believe their conclusions are still valid.
    For your readers who like numbers . . . “in both surveys 68 percent of direct-mail respondents were aged 60 and older. The percentage of donors aged 40 to 59 years who responded to direct mail remained the same at 23 percent. And the average age of direct-mail donors increased slightly from age 65 in 1995 to 68 in the new survey.”
    I ditto the statement that direct-mail is not dead.
    Karen Zapp, Fundraising Copywriter

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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