Stop sending me junk mail. It doesn’t work…does it?


Unless you’re one of these nonprofit organizations, I’m probably not going to open your direct mail.

I posted a comment on a blog yesterday. Claire wrote a two-parter about the best things a nonprofit organizations can do to get prospects and donors to open, read, and respond to direct mail. You can read it here: Clairification. Great post. Great tactics. But as I was reading it, I realized that even if an organization incorporated every single one of her suggestions, I still wouldn’t open it, or if I did, it’d be to see if it was good enough (or bad enough) to make it into my direct mail sample file.

Maybe it’s because I’ve designed, written, and sent hundreds of direct mail/ annual fund appeals over the past 23 years. I can spot whether something is “personalized” versus “personal” a mile away. And frankly, I’m just not interested.

You see, I’ve got my charities. I trust them and consider their work to be an extension of my personal interest in changing the world. That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the value of the American Red Cross, Charity Water, Heifer, or Big Brothers-Big Sisters. These are all great organizations that really make a difference. (I’ve also given each of these a token gift or two over the past 10 years.)

But I’ve shifted my philanthropy to focus on organizations that match my personal values, passion, and interests: like the ones in the photo. After reading Claire’s post, I started wondering if I was unique in my philanthropy. Are other people responding less? Or am I an outlier?

So I checked with the Direct Marketing Association. Their 2012 report on direct mail fundraising response rates says that those rates have dropped 25 percent in the past nine years. “I knew it,” I thought. I like being right. But then I kept reading:

“Even though direct mail is less effective in driving response than it was a decade ago, it still is among the best media for generating overall response.”

I also checked with Blackbaud, a provider of software and services to nonprofits. Their 2011 report on giving says:

“Robust direct-mail programs drive up retention and long-term value of online-acquired donors. Other than monthly giving programs, direct-mail programs are the best method for gaining repeat gifts from online-acquired donors.”

Oh well. I guess I was wrong: direct mail does work in 2012, even if the response rate is down a bit. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that direct mail MUST still work. Otherwise nonprofits wouldn’t continue to send so much of it. Would they? And if you’re going to use direct mail, might as well follow best practices, even if you have a little to no chance of making it past MY wastebasket.

What do you do with your junk mail?

Links to organizations I support:

Rotary International,  AFS, Friends of McCain Auditorium, K-State Theatre, Manchester College, Metropolitan Opera, Kirkland Museum, Center on Philanthropy, Manhattan Arts Center