Fundraising, Part 6: Direct marketing a key for public society benefit group

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This article is from a report written for Blackbaud, which asked me to look at fundraising strategies that nonprofits have found to be effective.]

Paralyzed Veterans of America raises about $95 million a year, just over 85 percent of it through direct marketing, says Cathy Jenkins, director of direct marketing for the organization.

Its two direct marketing programs focus on premium and non-premium donors, or those that receive a free item with the mail such as calendars or mailing labels, and those that do not, respectively.

Rather than free items, the non-premium donors receive an “involvement device” that invites donors to “become more involved in your program and your mission,” Jenkins says.

The organization in the past has sent non-premium donors a “bounce-back” card they could sign and return, a tactic that Jenkins says increases the response rate by three percent to five percent.

Last year, for the first time, Paralyzed Veterans sent non-premium donors  a small rose made of cloth they could return so it could be used to make a wreath for Veterans Day.

Including the rose generated a double-digit increase in the response rate, Jenkins says.

Premium donors, in contrast, receive “freemiums.”

While the 35-year-old premium program represents its biggest direct-marketing effort, the organization has struggled in the past year in using it to retain donors and acquire new ones, with retention down 7 percent to 10 percent.

As a result, it now is trying to focus more on segmenting donors and trying to “target the right audience with the right message and the right ask,” Jenkins says, and “move toward making sure a person doesn’t fall into lapse.”

So it has targeted people whose last gift was nine to 12 months ago, using a slightly different offer, ask or appeal technique, she says.

The result was a three percent to five percent increase in the response rate.

What proved effective was mentioning the size of the donor’s most recent gift, and showing that number through a window of the outer envelope “so they can see it right away.”

The mailing tested each of those methods separately and together, with the methods in combination proving more effective than either of them used by itself.

“It’s easier to keep people on file who are currently giving versus those who fall off,” Jenkins says. “We’re focusing on those people who are about to fall off.”

Next: International affairs group aims to show impact

The series:

Fundraising, Part 1: Basics key as economy starts to recover

Fundraising, Part 2: Health care groups invest in development capacity

Fundraising, Part 3: Human services groups focus on direct response marketing

Fundraising, Part 4: Museums aim to diversify donor base

Fundraising, Part 5: Major gifts a focus of environmental group

Fundraising, Part 6: Direct marketing a key for public society benefit group

Fundraising, Part 7: International affairs group aims to show

Fundraising, Part 8: Faith-based groups count on direct mail

Fundraising, Part 9: Independent school partners with parent volunteers

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