The Commission on the Donor Experience, April 2017
Everyone who works for a charity does so for the sake of the beneficiary – they provide help where it is needed, whether it’s an elderly neighbour, a sick child, a struggling farmer overseas or an abused animal. But right now, shouts for support are drowning each other out, and ultimately only the beneficiary will suffer.
This is why The Commission on the Donor Experience produced its ‘Helping your donors to love what you send them through the post’ report.
Recognising that direct mail is a cost effective and valuable key point of contact with supporters and potential supporters, its recommendations include:
1. Understand direct mail and its role in the wider organisational and fundraising strategy
Direct mail is arguably the most tested form of fundraising. There is over a century of evidence of what works and doesn’t, so understand the ‘rules’ that exist and use these to deliver inspiring mail to supporters.
Don’t follow bad practice examples such as that of Amnesty International’s pen pack, which saw a powerful appeal about torture following by endless copycat mailings with a pen insert, simply because it slightly boosted the initial response. This is just one example of how fundraisers neglected the overall, long term supporter experience for techniques to drive short term results.
2. Work to break down internal silos; communicate with other departments.
Ensure all stakeholders/supporter services staff are fully briefed when a mailing is sent so that any feedback from the public can be directed to the right team and an appropriate response given.
Share your direct mail experience across your organisation – demonstrate how great direct mail can be used in other types of fundraising and communications other than individual giving, for example corporate, community, marketing.
Also look at models outside the sector to better understand how they combine direct mail with other marketing channels, such as online or e-mail.
3. Measure the performance of all your direct mail and use data to provide a better experience for your supporters.
The key is to work towards a segment of one; understand supporters through their actions and feedback, then use this insight to treat them accordingly.
Implement measurement around supporter engagement and lifetime value, rather than focusing solely on short term return on investment. Review your key performance indicators (KPIs) for direct mail and ensure there is not a difference between the messages and creative you use for recruitment and retention.
Before any mailing, make sure you screen your supporter or cold list against a death-screening service, the mailing preference service (for cold mail) and your own internal suppression list.
4. Be relevant with your creative.
Few fundraisers write fundraising copy that can truly move donors to give their support. Most resort to the obvious, which is to describe the wonderful work of the charity. Many describe it in great detail and they do it with the rich energy of the enthusiast who knows the work achieves wonderful outcomes.
However, they forget that nobody is interested in the work, only in the outcome of the work. And actually, most are mainly interested in the outcome that has been made possible by their own kind gift.
Above all else, be emotional. Nobody gives ordinary donations rationally, they give emotionally, so when you are telling a story it will be much more successful if the donor is
5. Remember, an appeal is about the donor not about the charity.
The concept is delivered in words and images and connects to the reader’s emotional core. Once you have the concept, then you can start writing.
Be distinct. You should develop a unique reason to give that is clearly articulated in your direct mail. Try to sum up your proposition in 7 words and imagine your communication without a logo – what makes it uniquely yours?
Be interesting. Only communicate if you have something to say. Surprise supporters – tell them something new and unexpected. Make it relevant to them.
Take a step back and be critical, in fact be brutal. Is this new information? How is it relevant to the person I’m sending it to? Will it engage them?
6. Be human
Be a good listener. Try not to assume too much about supporters, listen to feedback and ask for supporter’s opinions.
- React to what donors are telling you – speed is key
- Talk to supporters before taking big actions
- Make it a relationship and a conversation
- Have a strong complaints handling process. Encourage supporters to tell you their gripes and encourage feedback. There is lots of evidence that successfully resolving complaints increases loyalty and retention
Above all else, be human. Offer a personal connection to the cause, introduce supporters to the individuals within the charity that they may deal with. Give named contacts in your direct mail so supporters know who to ask about any queries or to make a donation over the phone. Be open, honest and transparent.