Discovering new donors by rediscovering direct mail

  • by Lucy Tugby
  • 05/12/2018

Direct mail is enjoying a renaissance. Industry stakeholders recently unveiled new metrics standard Jicmail, while GDPR is expected to offer a further boost, with many organisations able to turn to mail using the legal basis of legitimate interest.

With these positive aspects of the medium in mind, WPNC invited charity fundraising and marketing professionals to an event, Discovering New Donors By Rediscovering Direct Mail, held in association with Royal Mail and The Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP). The event was brilliantly chaired by Judith Donovan CBE, who is also chair of the SMP and Royal Mail's Letters Advisory Board.

First up in front of a packed auditorium was Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and external affairs at the Institute of Fundraising. Discussing GDPR, he advised attendees to tread carefully but with confidence, saying: “If you thought you couldn’t do it [contact people] because the regulation doesn’t want you to, there is nothing in the rules saying you can’t; some supporters want to hear from you. Direct mail is one of the most powerful forms of fundraising.”

Oxfam’s interim deputy fundraising director Nick Pride also threw his weight behind mail, describing himself as “a fan and advocate” of it. He added: “Conversations with people who don’t sign up matter. Every single one leaves an impression. Direct mail allows us to demonstrate where money is used. People might not read the whole piece, but it gives us the chance to do two hard jobs: build trust, speak to new supporters – and do so at scale. We must recover the art of telling stories.”

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Changes to the cold list market, and how to remain data compliant under GDPR, were then outlined by Data Compliant’s Victoria Tuffill and EDM Media managing director Suzanne Lewis. Together they exploded some well-worn myths about dwindling data, rising consumer complaints and lists’ lack of effectiveness.

It was then the turn of Bill Portlock, managing director of Marketing Metrix, and his colleague, head data scientist Matthew Teale. The duo revealed that direct mail’s “long tail” can make a huge difference, with the medium increasing response by up to 20% when successfully combined with other channels.

Royal Mail unveiled its intriguing new Partially Addressed Mail offer, with director of mail and media products Andrew Knight stating: “This will allow campaigns to be targeted to specific streets so, for example, charities could run a campaign around an event at their local shop and include a map and coupon with the letter.”

John Watson, chairman and chief executive of WPNC, then shared his experiences of working with direct mail for several decades, as well as looking to a rosy future for the channel. He said: “We’ve learned there can be a big difference in just changing the creative in the pack – up to 100% in some cases, and people are often hugely surprised by that. Responders are less impulsive and more considered as it’s an isolated channel. It’s very tactile and personable and has a novelty value again.

“But different organisations don’t always find it works for them. So as practitioners we need to share our enthusiasm for direct mail and get people testing it. The donors will tell you whether they like it or not, in big numbers.”

Praising charities’ use of direct mail down the years, he added: “Charity mail is outperforming commercial organisations on response. You can teach the private sector a thing or two about comms: [their] creative might often look beautiful, but it isn’t always engaging.”

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The over-riding takeaway from the event was for charities to keep supporters at the heart of all communications, with the channel and message serving the audience, rather than dictating to it.

Attendee Alex Achkar, senior fundraiser - acquisition at NSPCC, said of using cold mail: “We have got to make it more viable. I was reassured today and I’m now more confident about going back to build a case for the value of this channel.

“I’m excited to see how it can have an impact on future donors. I could be one - I give to several charities to see what I get sent by them and I probably only get one mailing per month at the moment. Charities have a big job to do to think about how we are using all of the channels – it’s one of our major challenges.”

Damian Chapman, head of communications & fundraising at the Police Dependants’ Trust, added: “It was great to hear practical experience from experts, telling us how charities can improve direct marketing activity. We’ve done very little fundraising, but 12 officers a day are injured on the frontline and the way we do things has got to change. We have to be more proactive and direct marketing will be one of the key pillars.

“There’s a lot of confusion about data protection legislation, particularly among smaller charities with less resource or expertise. You just need to do things compliantly and put the person at the heart of decision making. Think about whether the person would object and should you be asking them to donate, and if the answer comes back “not sure”, then don’t do it!”

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