direct mail, Economics, Education, Fundraising

What It Takes To Raise A Buck

The Dream Catcher: the ultimate gift.

It may be a function of age, but we receive a fair share of fundraising direct mail. Occasionally we get kits that amaze us for their content, with the underlying question, how can this possibly make money?

St. Joseph’s Indian School uses a donor acquisition package that pushes the boundaries, but based on their frequent use, this kit makes money. But it still amazes.

A personalized lift note accompanies the letter.

The key to powerful direct mail is rolled up in this slogan: List-Offer-Format-Copy. You can figure it out. But a subset of “Format” is fundamental to understanding good design: Size-Cards-Labels-Diecuts-Personalization.

Take a look at St. Joe’s and how they go beyond the formula.

The 9×9-1/2 Flat kit is hard to ignore.

Size
The envelope is 9×9-1/2. No wait, it’s not an envelope. It’s more like a bag, a catch all, and it’s a half inch thick. Not normal! Right away, we are talking a Flat, not a letter. Odds are it weighs more than 3.3 ounces, so no kidding, this is a small trunk in the donor’s mailbox. Despite its bulkiness, it is still machinable, but I’ll bet the USPS would love to be rid of this mini-parcel bouncing through their multi-million dollar sorters. Remember, in direct mail, size counts.

The calendar is one of 8 personalized pieces.

The perfed donor form highlights what your donation will buy.

Cards
Many successful kits provide a card. It’s personalized, perhaps laminated or plasticized, embossed, and maybe delivered in pairs. Very common in retail, insurance, service and association mailings, cards convey belonging and entitlement. While St. Joe’s doesn’t have a card per se, they do include personalized memorabilia like calendar cards, and gift certificates.

27 address stickers, enough for every utensil in the kitchen drawer.

Labels
Do we have enough address labels? Maybe, maybe not. Until you have labeled all your electronic gear, computers, cell phones, 14 golf clubs, CDs, Vinyl, USBs, chargers, staplers, umbrellas, Christmas cards, 3-hole punch and entire library of Clive Cussler books on loan, you aren’t done. And beside labels, anything that is pressure sensitive, like Post-it notes, velcro and magnets counts as an involvement device that draws your reader in a tactile way to your mailing. St. Joe’s goes over the top to provide stickers and labels for the donor, their children and the next door neighbor’s cat.

Mood aubergine: more labels for every occasion.

Die-Cuts
Really a technical obsession for printers and origami artists, the die-cut is a subtle paper carving that uses perforations, kiss-cuts, windows and trimming to create a 3-dimensional or engineered aspect to your kit. The recipient will work those die-cuts intuitively, without thinking, to unfold and self administer a little presentation for their personal viewing. Again die-cuts precipitate movement and finger work, which is involving your reader.

The Post-it note doubles down on the ask.

Personalization
St. Joe’s knows how to attract the eye, and that starts with calling out to the reader repeatedly. 8 times in fact. Envelope, letter, donor form, certificates, address labels, stickers, calendar, lift note…no matter your persuasion, it is hard to casually throw out a piece of paper that has your name on it.

I offer an additional element that may trump the 5 attributes above–

A 24-page calendar with original art makes this kit indispensible.

Indispensibility
Above and beyond the formula I gave you, the appeal of the St. Joe’s piece is that you just can’t throw it out. Why? Because in addition to all of the features, the envelope is packed with gifts, and useful items: three shrunk-wrapped greeting cards, a note pad, a 24-page calendar with art, the stickers or course, and the piece de resistance: the Dream Catcher. Not to mention the 3 penny stamps affixed to the reply envelope. Almost impossible to throw in the bin…just can’t do it. Arrrgh!

So there you have a fully loaded kit.   But can it pay for itself?

The first rule of fundraising: donors don’t come free. So management knows they must develop their donor files, which is what this kit is for.

The note pad’s backer explains the mission and prayer of the Lakota community.

It’s a bit of a guess, but based on a nickel a page, this kit probably cost around $2.50 to print and assemble, plus the Dream Catcher…, maybe $3.00. Postage will be around 50-55 cents, based on a 6.4 ounce kit, automation rate, non profit.  Add in the lists, freight and data processing and it has to be $4.00 a kit.

Wow!  “Who has that kind of money?” fret the accountants, and by the way, a lot of donors, too.

But here’s the thing, because of its impact, its stopping power, this piece could have a 5-8% response rate.  Let’s say 7%.

Three tastefully designed greeting cards, individually wrapped, are an extra push for donation.

Then $4.00/7% = $57.00 cost per response.  And what is the average gift? They are asking between $8-$70.  Again say it’s $30.  So the net cost is $27 to get a new donor.  That donor will have a longstanding, profitable relationship with St. Joe’s and looking at the financial statement, there is about a 10% chance that the donor may make a final bequest in their will to the organization.

Overall, St. Joe’s has a fundraising efficiency of about 31%, according to their financial statement. 31 cents to raise a dollar.

This may seem higher than some of the nation’s largest, more well known non-profits.  But keep in mind that those have strong, pervasive brands, high impact causes like hurricanes and disease, and oodles of corporate in-kind support, too.

Thanks for reading!  Please share!

 

Advertisements
Standard
direct mail, Economics, Fundraising, Marketing, USPS

The Mysterious Cost To Raise A Dollar

The tiny silver disc leapt from the shelf.

The convolution of three events today raised my antenna that there is a superior organizing force out there that is directing our path as we hurtle through space.

As I was cleaning off our bookshelf, a small battery dropped to the desk. These are the tiny nickel-cadmium dots that we find in cameras and calculators. Not the larger lithium incendiary bombs that we have in our laptops and hover boards.

The calculator that failed to light up.

The battery was all that was left of a calculator I tried to resuscitate a few months ago. When the machine didn’t light up, I undid about 9 tiny screws to retrieve the battery.  As I popped off the back, the entire calculator sprung into a hundred pieces of keys, buttons and circuit board.  Incalculable.   I saved the battery to take into the hardware store for a replacement, just in case the calculator could be reassembled.

The next thing that happened was while emptying out the washing machine, we discovered that I had left my Moleskine diary in my shirt pocket. We retrieved the diary cover, very soggy, and found the rest of its contents spread like a million flakes of oatmeal over all our clothes. So much for keeping notes on paper.

A misadventure, attempting to extract the battery for replacement.

As the morning progressed, Lonny the mailman came by, and stuffed our mailbox with lots of missives from people we don’t know, but asking for money. The largest piece in the delivery was a giant, lumpy, shiny, pebbled envelope from Disabled Veterans National Foundation.

The DVNF package was an exceptional “Flat”: 12″ x 15″.   So huge that all the other mail was folded in with it.

In direct mail, size counts.  So I opened it immediately to find, mirabile dictu––another calculator!  And—- another diary!  Wow.  I am completed.

The Mystery of Fundraising By Mail

After admitting that the USPS may be a supernatural force, most would ponder the imponderable: how does DVNF get away with sending out calculators, books and notepads, and expect to earn any money for their cause?

A “max flat” the 12 x 15 kit is shiny, pebbled and lumpy. It was folded to fit the mailbox.

That, dear reader, is one of the great mysteries of direct mail fundraising, and one that I will unravel for you now.  All you need to know is what the package really costs, response rate and average dollar gift amount.

To calculate the cost, I first took the kit down to the USPS post office for an official weighing.   Ranjit asked with a jaded smile on his face, “Why?  Do you intend to sue them?”

“No.  I want to calculate their postage, and how much this whole thing cost in the mail.”

Ranjit replied, “It’s non-profit, but don’t kid yourself, they are making money.”

I pulled out the new calculator and said, “Look at this!  That’s gotta cost a buck anyway…”

Ranjit smirked, “Nope.  Twenty cents.  About $2 dollars a pound. It’s from China.”  We weighed it: 3.3 ounces.  “That works out to 40 cents, ” I figured.  Ranjit countered, “OK so maybe $1 dollar a pound, that’s 20 cents.”

A new pocket diary, calculator, memo pad and pen, all personalized.

I stared at him as I pondered that number.  At the same time Ranjit extended his arm across the counter to flash a beautiful bejeweled wristwatch, sparkling in buttons, numbers, dials, and a bright yellow face.  “How much do you think this cost?”  He smiled.

“Uh, I don’t know.  Ten bucks?  A nickel?   79 cents?”

“Close.  It cost me $2 dollars.  Made in China. I bought 5 for $10 bucks, each a different color, for every day at work.”

Smitten with this new-found knowledge of international commerce, I bid him a good day and took my 20-cent calculator back to the car.

The whole mail kit, which included the calculator, the notebook, DVNF pen and some letters and envelopes weighed 9.1 ounces.  According to the USPS, this Flat was part of a 3-digit automation scheme, so I estimate the non-profit postage was about $0.59 a piece.

This pocket diary replaced the soggy Moleskine in a nick of time.

The envelope was made in China, as was the notebook.  Without asking, one can only guess that the components all assembled, shipping included, must have cost around $2 dollars.  Add another 50 cents for the 5-way match on name (envelope, calculator, notebook, donor form and notepad) and you have a kit that surely cost over $3 dollars to put in the mail.

And Now, Using The New Calculator:

That’s $3,000/m for you printers out there keeping score.

The donor form offers a $2.50 check as a tempting diversion. But they want $15-$25. Go figure.

When most mail kits ring in around $0.35 cents each, $3 dollars is a hefty challenge.   In their calculations DVNF finds a breakeven point by dividing the total cost of the kit by the average gift amount.   Looking at their donor card, they suggest a gift of $15-$25.  Taking the lower end, their breakeven response is $3/$15 = 20% response.  At the higher end, 12% response.

12% – 20% response is a steep hill.   This particular charity is known for its high fundraising costs.  According to Charity Navigator their fundraising efficiency is $0.71.  That means for every dollar raised, they spent 71 cents.

For this package, that translates to $3/.71 = $4.23 raised for every piece mailed.

If their average gift is $15, then their response rate would be $4.23/$15 = 28.2%.

And at $25, the response is 16.9%.

There’s no way to be certain, and DVNF is unlikely to share their response results.  But the package itself is a donor acquisition kit.  That is, a high pressure sales pitch to get a new donor.   If indeed it did generate a 28.2% response rate, with a gift of $15, the cost per new donor is:  ($4.23-$3.00)/28.2% = $4.36, which is pretty darn good, if not downright incredible.

It also follows that every new donor will be repeatedly contacted for further donations, which over time, leads to a real surplus, destined for program expenses that support the disabled veterans.

 

Thanks for grinding through these numbers with me!  Please note that Disabled Veterans National Foundation should not be confused with Disabled American Veterans.

 

Standard
Fundraising, Media

Why Don’t You Just Ask?

Charitable Giving, Social Media and Stickiness 

online donationsWhy is it that fundraisers can’t write a note, or pick up the phone and just say what’s on their minds?

Why do they have to float it out there, like smoke, or a bad itch, on Facebook or Twitter?

It brings to mind a lesson from long ago.

As a kid of 10 years old, in my town, ice and skates were intended for hockey.  You know you live in a hockey town when the church tells you to leave your skates and gear in the vestibule before coming into the Lord’s house.

Anyway.  I didn’t play hockey.  I was in the figure skating club which was a popular girls’ sport.  Not so much for boys, but there you have it.

Every year our figure skating club hosted an ice carnival.  This is a 2-hour show where the whole town comes to watch this costume extravaganza on ice, down at the rink.  Little squads of 7-year-old Sugar Plum Fairies skoot out in a circle and pirouette.   Flocks of Skunks wobble on tiny skates across the ice while the town band plays “The Baby Elephant Walk”.

The senior girls kick line does a bouncy number to a Gypsy tune and the crowds roar their appreciation.  The whole time the blue and the red lines plus 5 face off spots map the ice for us.

The crowds are there because they bought tickets.  $3.00 for an adult, $1.00 per child.

Those tickets are sold because we figure skaters were told to go sell the tickets.  Which brings me to the current point in a round about way.   I hated selling tickets…scary and embarrassing, knocking on doors, asking people to hand over money for a non-hockey event on ice.

This was an annual debate between me and my parents:

“Why do I have to sell tickets?  Why can’t people just go to the booth and get them?”

“Because you need to learn to ask .”

“What do you mean?”

“Son, you need to learn to ask people face-to-face for things that you need.   We need to sell those tickets.  It’s for the figure skating club.   Most important, the audience wants to know who they are giving their money to.   This is business.   You are the connection. So get out there, and ask them to buy the tickets. Now.”

Today, with the power and saturation of the internet we can sell anything we want online.  More significantly, we don’t have to ask, beg, beseech, or grovel before anyone particularly.  It’s a non-contact vocation.  We can just float an open invitation out there, and see who bites on it.

Skywriting comes to mind.

If our follower numbers are big enough, we might get all we need without a repeat advertisement.  If not, the public plea is repeated, with urgency, and perhaps a shade of disappointment hidden between the lines.

The shame of this online power is that there is no need to commit, or worse yet, make a plea or promise in return to any one.  Just as bad, the buyer or donor doesn’t get any nod or recognition for rising to the occasion.  If they’re lucky, the online gifting site says “Thanks– your receipt is being emailed.”  And that’s about it.

So I am all for charitable giving.  And any time someone just asks me, I am happy–no, delighted– to give.  Charitable giving is a way for someone to participate and to help, and most importantly, the giver is thankful for being invited.

People sometimes wonder why there is so much fundraising mail.   While those letters may be mass-produced, invariably they are still individualized, signed and thoughtful requests.  They connect and stick.  And that’s why they work.

So drop a line, or pick up the phone, and just ask.

Standard
direct mail, Fundraising, Marketing, Media

Battles In The Mailbox

IMG_5172

The Memorial Day rush begins.

There is an ongoing, armed conquest being waged in our mailbox.

Whether it was my donation to a certain political party that flagged my name, or perhaps a popular consumer magazine subscription, the ensuing barrage of fundraising mail from veterans’ associations is non-stop in our mailbox.

Regardless, the creative pitches are stunners, and deserve a closer look.  You are hereby invited to read my mail!

Most of these charities are profiled and rated on Charity Navigator.org, which strips away the emotion to detail actual performance against their stated missions.

Turnkey Office 

IMG_5163

As big as a door mat, and packed, too.

The Disabled Veterans National Foundation takes overwhelming force to a new level with their glossy, Flat-sized embossed package.  Despite the red-stenciled “DO NOT FOLD” our faithful USPS carrier did just that to get it in the mailbox.   It measures 12 x 15, and according to the weigh scales at our grocer’s fish counter, weighs 13.4 ounces.  If that seems heavy to you, perhaps we have been paying too much for our halibut.

IMG_5169

The field ready office with solar powered personalized calculator and stationery.

Inside this doormat-sized kit is a desk pad, calculator, calendar book and ball point pen.  Along with this prefab office kit is a $2.50 check drawn on a Bank of America account.   Surely a mistake, it is signed, dated and made out to me.   In the enclosed letter, the writer, smitten with remorse, asks me to return the check.

Check mailings are iffy because in many cases the marketer needs to have funds held in escrow to honor the checks if, fates forbid, the recipients decide to take the money.

Disabled Vets FNDN182

“Made in China”–The disturbing bug that must be shown.

This kit ain’t cheap.   Postage alone is nearly a dollar, and considering the hand-applied “Philip Brown” label on the calculator, plus its die-cut and tensor-ribboned place mat, the overall cost has to be at least $4-$5 dollars each.

Which may explain why the kit was made in China– not an encouraging signal for U.S Veterans.  I wait to see if they will send me a typewriter next year.

Parade-Ready Flag

IMG_5170

Steel plate reveal: your own desk ready Stars & Stripes.

Wounded Warrior Project also approached us with a package, a 5 x 10 windowed boxlet   displaying a real flag inside.  This Army-green imitation steel-plated ammo box is nearly half an inch thick, so it’s non-automation all the way..40-45 cents to mail.   The flag is intricately folded into a die-cut foam holder that also holds the addressed donor form, a hand-assembled product for sure… which explains again, why it was made in China.   In the mail, $1-$1.50 each.

We’ll talk about cost/response in a minute.

Photo Wallet

IMG_5187

A photo wallet… a hard to discard gift.

Wounded Warrior Project also sent along a separate request which included a 4×6, 20-page photo wallet.   Inside a regular 6 x 9 envelope, this gift actually made immediate sense, and the wallet now holds images of our ridiculously  brilliant, and beautiful grandchildren.  Not being one to take anything for granted, we will reward WWP for the effort.  Still, with postage, in-the-mail cost is 40-50 cents each.

Calling Cards

IMG_5174

Ersatz calling cards stuck in place to get the letter opened.

Help Our Wounded, and Armed Forces Aid Campaign have learned how to affix 3 plastic phone cards to a page.   Technologically, this is pretty cool, if not done by hand.  The cards are stuck on top of each other and appear jumbled through the large glassine window….as if they were thrown in quickly, sealed and run off to catch the 3 o’clock mail.  The impact, especially for the uninitiated such as me, is strong.   Their job is to get the envelope opened, and indeed, the ploy works.   Help Our Wounded, aka Healing American Heroes is not found on Charity Navigator.   My bet is the mailing costs 50-60 cents all-in.

Going For Our Stronger Feminine Side

IMG_5180

A pretty package with writing in mind. This one’s for Gramma.

Disabled American Veterans is the senior classman in veteran’s charities.  Despite that, they have assigned a female status to my record, so I receive kits that reflect more genteel tastes than one might expect.   Putting the gender bias aside, especially in North Carolina, this kit is in keeping with DAV’s efforts to send along quality gifts.

I can’t use any of this one, which is resplendent in lavender-hued Forget Me Nots.   Still, if I was desperate, making a struggling attempt to write to my passed on mother, or to scratch out a hasty last will and testament, I have notepad, and mauve colored, simulated vellum sheets for assigning my debts to chosen in-laws.

The kit is tasteful, if gender specific, and is certainly an eye opener.   DAV also uses real stamps on the reply envelope.  While the accountants may come unhinged at this largesse, DAV’s frequent use of the costly stamps is proof that the presumptuous gesture works in bringing in more donations.

One wonders how many codgers will steam off the stamps, versus cross out DAV’s return address and use the envelope to pay their water bill instead.

All in, this piece must tip the scales at $2.00 in the mail.  But it works.

Subtle and Cautious

USO 2016-05-02 185

Creative use of stamps–just enough to impress, but maybe a challenge for the USPS accountants.

The USO is the most conservative kit to ask us for a donation, and that is in return for a genuine Stars & Stripes Flag plus good feelings.   I included this under-played kit because of their creative use of postage.

Non-profit letters get a privileged postal rate, somewhere between 8-18 cents depending upon address density and automation compatibility.   USO chose to affix 5-cents worth of stamps to their outer envelope, and to use their postmark (#440) to make up the difference at the counter.

Their reply envelope reveals their cautionary approach to wasting postage money.  Rather than place the full 49 cents on the envelope, like DAV, they are willing to go for 5 cents, but left the Business Reply Mail (bill us) indicia in the corner.

We guess that this itsy-bitsy effort will drive the postal accountants nuts.

In the mail cost: 40 cents, tops.

Drop Another Nickel

Paralyzed V 2016-05-02 187

Just when you thought the nickel was yours, they want it back.

Paralyzed Veterans of America is one of several charities which has a conveyor belt from the US Mint to their mail room wherein millions of shiny new nickels are deposited on glossy label stock letters.

Just yesterday we discussed at lunch how many of us keep the nickel, which after all, adds up when everyone is mailing them, March Of Dimes excluded.

PVA’s piece is a max-sized letter, 5 x 11-1/2.   This is a smart move because the postage is the same large or small, so you might as well get the most paper into the package that you can for the same price.  However, nickel-enhanced gold foil labels are heavy, so the rule is to keep below 3.3 ounces or the rate goes through the roof.   $1.25-$1.50 in the mail.

Did You Get Our Card?

IMG_5188

Flowers, fuzzy puppies and kind sentiments… a happy birthday for some one.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars by comparison uses a tiny 3-3/4 x 7-1/2 envelope, aka a “Monarch” to ask the nagging question, “Did your special edition birthday cards arrive?”   Somewhat reminiscent of the neighbor’s kid who knocks on our door to sell Christmas wrap.  We still have six rolls from last year.

Well, yes, the cards did arrive.   I am sorry, but so far I have not found a suitable target for them which are best described as lovely and softly sweet.   My Mom might have liked one, but not from me.   Again, these are estrogen-energized, and if I get my hands on the person who tagged me as female, I am going to scratch their eyes out.

A simple little kit, probably 40-cents in the mail, at most.

How Do They Make Any Money?

As you can see, these kits range in cost from 40 cents to perhaps $5 each all-in.   Can a non-profit actually make a profit from these mailings?  Check the Charity Navigator for details. You will be enlightened.

But realistically, the acquisition of a brand new donor will always be at a loss.  The strategy is to keep that donor giving for a long time afterwards, hopefully with a final bequest of planned gift when they pass on.

accountant

“How the @#$%^%$$ will we ever make this work?”

For the accountancy gene in you however, rest assured that every fundraiser has a donor acquisition cost they won’t exceed.   This is the anchor point in a campaign.  To respect that restriction, a good forecast on the cost of a response is to divide the piece-cost by the expected response rate.

For instance, a piece costs $2.00 in the mail.  This is big money, and the accountants are squirming in their chairs.  But the marketing folks believe the kit will get a 7% response.

$2.00/7% = $28.57 cost per response.

If the charity can show that a new donor at that cost will stick around on average for 5  years and return $150.00 in donations, then that is a reasonable investment.

Meantime…

We are digging in for more incoming mail.   Hopefully without flowers.

Thanks for reading!   We do support our Vets and and respect all that they do.  If you are inclined to donate to a cause, check out their website for a financial report, or visit  Charity Navigator.

Standard