How 1,000 dead donors were wasting money

by guest blogger Lisa Sargent, fundraising copywriter, donor communications specialist, and rabid defender of direct mail.

Here’s what happened when a real-life charity — forever to remain anonymous — decided to clean up their house file.

At ABC Charity, response rates were not stellar on mailings to warm donors. At least, what they thought were warm donors. Calculations showed that on a house file of 15,000, just 4% — 600 people — gave in response to ABC’s direct mail appeals.

Finally ABC Charity decided to take a deeper look at its files…

They found, among other things, more than a thousand dead donors (1,500 to be precise) plus another 5,000 one-time event participants. No matter how you slice it, these are decidedly not warm donors.

Here’s what happens to that original 4% response rate: Taking only these two factors into account, the true “warm file” now numbers 8,500. And 600 responses to a mailing of that size works out to 7.1%. What’s more, the charity will save thousands in future postage and print costs.

I don’t know about you, but that would sure change the way I looked at the overall success of a mailing — and with respect to the 5,000 one-time participants it would change my communications strategy completely.

Database and audience matter more than creative.

(And yes, the file cleanup was long overdue. Still, kudos to ABC for getting it done. Baby steps, baby steps.)


Comments

10 responses to “How 1,000 dead donors were wasting money”

  1. Be careful how you delete your dead donors. We get a good number of gifts from folks identified on the Social Security database as dead. Deeper investigation showed that survivors were giving in honor of their departed loved ones and, no, they didn’t want us to change the name on our database. So, do your overlays, but also look at your recent transactions. If they’re dead and inactive, clean it up. If they’re dead and active, keep mailing.

  2. Be careful how you delete your dead donors. We get a good number of gifts from folks identified on the Social Security database as dead. Deeper investigation showed that survivors were giving in honor of their departed loved ones and, no, they didn’t want us to change the name on our database. So, do your overlays, but also look at your recent transactions. If they’re dead and inactive, clean it up. If they’re dead and active, keep mailing.

  3. Sounds like we need to remember the “40-40-20″rule.

  4. Sounds like we need to remember the “40-40-20″rule.

  5. Does that mean that they didn’t bulk mail? Because if they did, wouldn’t they have had to do regular CASS reports for the USPS? And wouldn’t that have turned up the dead folks?
    Or is this not a US mailing?
    Thanks,
    Jill

  6. Does that mean that they didn’t bulk mail? Because if they did, wouldn’t they have had to do regular CASS reports for the USPS? And wouldn’t that have turned up the dead folks?
    Or is this not a US mailing?
    Thanks,
    Jill

  7. Denisa Casement Avatar
    Denisa Casement

    @ Jill That’s just US mailing. In European countries you mostly rely on a family member to inform you. (and, no this wasn’t my charity =)

  8. Denisa Casement Avatar
    Denisa Casement

    @ Jill That’s just US mailing. In European countries you mostly rely on a family member to inform you. (and, no this wasn’t my charity =)

  9. Joan, thanks for your comment. I should have made the “dead AND inactive” clarification (criteria both met before client cleaned up the file). But I’m still going to share your comment with my client for future ref. Thanks again, Lisa

  10. Joan, thanks for your comment. I should have made the “dead AND inactive” clarification (criteria both met before client cleaned up the file). But I’m still going to share your comment with my client for future ref. Thanks again, Lisa

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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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