The mystery of the unopened fundraising appeals

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One of the most amazing things about Uncle Maynard’s Treasure Trove of Direct Mail Knowledge is that nearly every piece in it has been opened. Uncle Maynard takes his philanthropic duty very seriously. Despite the fact that he gets a big pile of requests for funds in the mail every day, he opens and considers nearly all of them.

But there’s one type of mailing in there that more often than not came to me unopened:

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Thick, oversized envelopes stuffed to the gills with high-end freemiums. We’re not talking address labels here. There were things like gloves, calculators, flags, blankets. High-value stuff. Actually, crappy and cheap versions of high-value stuff.

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Why doesn’t Uncle Maynard open them? He grew up during the Depression. He doesn’t throw stuff away. But these mailers have worn him down. In fact, this is the only complaint about his direct mail that he’s voiced to me: They send me all this stuff I don’t need.

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I hope these mailers are responsibly testing, and their packages continue to generate acceptable response. I also hope they’ve got their eyes on the long-term value these mailings generate. Because the typical potential downside of this tactic is that it brings in large number of low-dollar, low-involvement donors. The initial response is high, which could mask the fact that you’re creating a list that’s in an constant state of churn and failing to generate acceptable net revenue.

It’s possible to have a “successful” direct mail program that brings in a lot of donors and dollars — but creates a cash drain on the organization that’s invisible because they aren’t paying attention to the right numbers.

I have no inside knowledge about these mailers. They may be doing just fine. But I’ve seen the numbers on some organizations that were using similar fundraising tactics who were caught in a death-spiral they couldn’t escape.

As long as more Uncle Maynards out there don’t open the envelopes, the problem will continue to grow.

More from the Trove

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Comments

2 responses to “The mystery of the unopened fundraising appeals”

  1. How timely, given the recent posts all over the place about whether premiums and freemiums are a good idea. I feel the same way Maynard does… why would I donate to an organization that waste’s my money printing address labels or sending donor free gloves? They’re telling me in advance that they won’t be good stewards of my money!

  2. How timely, given the recent posts all over the place about whether premiums and freemiums are a good idea. I feel the same way Maynard does… why would I donate to an organization that waste’s my money printing address labels or sending donor free gloves? They’re telling me in advance that they won’t be good stewards of my money!

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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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About the blogger

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.