Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Does direct mail actually cost you money?

Our friends at Donor Power Blog recently pondered the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns in their blog, "I say potato, you say pyrrhic". The conversation is worth having.

At CDM, we are asking ourselves these same questions. We spend about $10K to produce one of our quartetly newsletters, and we typically generate 3-4 times that much simply through the envelopes that we included in the mailing (which does not include the donations that were motivated by these newsletter but that came in other forms, such as online and in unmarked envelopes). We also spend about $3K to produce one of our quarterly postcards (which obviously does not have a remittance vehicle). Is it working?

In the first four months of the year, individual giving rose about 33% compared to the previous year (when we did not have the postcards, but did have the newsletters).

That being said, these costs do not count the amount of staff time it takes to produce these projects: there are three or four of us who spend quite a few hours on each one of these projects. That time could be spent in other ways -- calling donors, writing grant proposals, etc.

At the end of the day, we cannot really know the success of our direct mail campaign until we take a broader view and look at the annual results. Or, even more importantly, the 3-5 year results that show trends in giving.

Of course, as Phil Cubeta might remind me, the best way to know the impact of the campaign would be to ask the donors themselves.

"Do you like getting this newsletter or postcard?"

"How do these items affect your donations?"

"Do you really love us, or are you just trying to keep us at bay... sending us checks large enough to keep us off your back, but small enough to not make us want to call you for coffee?"

DISCUSSION: How do you use direct mail, and what are your results/concerns?