Archive for August, 2009

Is there a future for direct mail fundraising?

August 18, 2009

Mark Rovner recently had a thought provoking post on the Sea Change Strategies blog about direct mail fundraising. He poses the long standing question, “Is direct mail fundraising dead?” The answer appears to be that although it’s not dead yet, it may be soon.Direct Mail 2

Particularly interesting is Mark’s position that up and coming donors, Gen-Ys , will likely be averse to direct mail because of its inauthentic approach. I wholeheartedly agree with this prediction. Gen-Ys are a skeptical bunch when it comes to advertising and the like. We’ve seen how the age of social media has forced organizations towards an era of transparency and authentic interaction with stakeholders.  It’s likely that this same authenticity imperative is starting to change our receptiveness to direct mail?

I haven’t done a lot of direct mail writing but when I have, it’s always left me feeling a bit slimy. There are countless resources out there about how to write a successful fundraising letter. When I first began writing direct mail,  I read many of these materials and was gobsmacked at how meticulously calculated these letters are.

Direct mail tactics have been tested to death and there are countless “rules” for the successful template. You should make an ask for money at least three times within the body of the letter, you should always have a “P.S.”, you should always create a sense of urgency for the donation—perhaps as an ’emergency appeal’. The list goes on and on. All of these directives have been shown to improve response rates. As Mark points out in his post, people use this approach because it works. BUT will that continue?

I think direct mail fundraising will, as Mark predicts, morph into an online approach. More and more donors are already avoiding the “return envelope” and are heading to organization websites to make their contributions. In years to come, it’s reasonable to expect the whole process will move online.  Rather than seeing a simple shift to direct email though, I think it’s inevitable that we’ll see other methods of engagement using social networking platforms, which by definition are relationship oriented.

There are certainly benefits to this move to the Web. It’s easier to find  pockets of potential supporters within online platforms, giving organizations a larger pool of individuals receptive to the message. Much easier than targeting postal/zip codes based on broad demographics. It’s also a much less costly and environmentally harmful alternative to thousands of envelopes and stamps.

Over to you. Do you think direct mail has a future?

Getting Twitter buy-in at your nonprofit

August 4, 2009
TBS campaign photo

From Twitter: "Placards very vibrant. Can see them well from the street."

Last week, I “live tweeted” an event for a client. It was a first for me but something I had wanted to try for quite awhile. Twitter is a new communication platform for this client and tweeting an event was a great way to introduce them to it.

Beyond Borders is a volunteer-driven, national NGO speaking out globally on the issue of child sexual exploitation. The organization is part of a network of NGOs affiliated with ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes).

Beauty retailer The Body Shop, has joined forces with ECPAT and the Somaly Mam Foundation to engage in a three-year campaign to stop sex trafficking of children and youth. Part of the campaign involves the launch of a new hand cream with a portion of sales going to ECPAT affiliates.

For Beyond Borders, this campaign will not only generate a new source of funds to carry out projects  benefiting victims of exploitation, it will also bring the organization unprecedented attention. As the result, Beyond Borders decided to invest in an entirely revamped website that was easy to navigate and that also incorporated social media (including Twitter) to further engage the community at large.

For most of the organization’s board members and volunteers, Twitter was an unfamiliar platform. Sure, most were aware of the hype around Twitter but they were unsure about how it works and how the organization could use it.

I made the case that Twitter would be a great way to connect with related NGOs as well as other stakeholders. It would also provide Beyond Borders volunteers (who span the country) with a quick and easy way to stay abreast of the organization’s news and activities.

Getting Twitter buy-in

With the majority of volunteers not using Twitter, the first order of business was to introduce the platform to them and to cultivate openness to using it. That was part of the rationale for putting a Twitter stream right on the website. Providing a “window” to recent posts on Twitter within a platform comfortable to everyone (the organization’s website) we were one step away from having them click on the link taking them directly to the Twitter profile.

The next challenge will be to post information that will be relevant to the Beyond Borders community. The launch of The Body Shop’s campaign was a perfect place to start.

Event tweeting increased motivation to use Twitter

As part of the launch of the campaign, the retailer hosted a rally in Toronto to provide information to that region’s staff members as well as to interested media. I attended the launch and agreed to “live tweet” the event. For Beyond Borders members unable to travel to Toronto for the launch, Twitter would be the next best thing to being there.

Using an iPhone and the Twitterrific application that allows you to tweet using a mobile device, I was able to upload several photo links and provide a running commentary of the event. By going to the Beyond Borders Twitter profile or its website, visitors could see images and read updates in real time.

The importance of this event to Beyond Borders as well as the novelty of being able to hear about it in real time was a great way to motivate people to try the platform. Volunteers who followed along gave the experience a positive review.

Many nonprofits/NGOs are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. It’s important, though, to do some thoughtful planning about how the organization will use the platform and to make sure that it is integrated with the organization’s larger communication plan. Creating a Twitter profile and posting updates to it does not mean everyone, including your volunteers/staff, will embrace it. As with other communication tools, the content has to be easy to absorb, relevant and useful. Overcoming the barriers to adopting this new tool also needs to be part of the plan.

Has your organization recently adopted Twitter or another social media tool? I’d love to hear about your success and challenges.