9 things melting the glacier of direct mail

18 Jun


Last month there was a blog posted at Charity Engine that talked about the “melting glacier” of direct mail. (I know the polar bear is on ice and not a glacier-i just love the picture’s connotation.) The blogger noted that their post ticked many in the nonprofit sector off. The blogger cited book buying as evidence of behaviors being re-imagined by the likes of Amazon and I would go further to point out that many companies large enough to know better have struggled to be part of the demographic and efficiency-driven technologic changes all around us.

Oldsmobile, Microsoft, Nokia, Blackberry, the music industry, getting a taxi, pay phones, landline phones, watching TV and on and on…..

So place me in complete agreement with the blogger-nonprofits are clinging to the glacier of direct mail while it melts away and there’s nothing that will save it from total meltdown. My meaning here is that at some point direct mail will no longer dominate as the way to give as it has for decades.

Here are the 9 things I see (among many) that are melting the direct mail glacier for nonprofits.

1. Increasingly, direct mail is driving online giving especially among older donors

This is an instructive finding from a report released by Dunham and Company in November 2013:


Certainly there are less expensive ways to get people to make donations than using direct mail to drive them online. It should be noted that younger age groups likely don’t even open your direct mail since they favor social media as the way to learn about causes. It should be noted that the online channel is the only one that’s growing in the nonprofit sector.

2. Giving is an impulse and online satisfies the impulse faster-especially mobile giving

In the same Dunham and Company report it was stated that the reason for making a gift was:


Ahead of direct mail which is, as pointed out earlier, driving donors to go online to give versus give through the mail, you see “in person” and “nothing in particular” as motivators for online giving. Direct mail is not an impulse fulfillment channel whereas online and mobile are. There’s nothing like being able to respond to an ask and the impulse to give via the mobile phone.

3. The fear that responding to direct mail begets more direct mail

I have talked to donors about direct mail and they fear getting more mail if they respond. Even online gifts solicit more direct mail. Why ask online donors to switch channels? You might say because they don’t give via email and social media. I would say that’s because both those channels are mobile channels and 84% of nonprofits rely still on their PC donation experience for mobile donations. Doing so frustrates donors and makes them give up, resulting in lost donations.

Worse yet is the selling of mailing lists to other nonprofits resulting in direct mail from nonprofits you’ve never heard of.

4. Millennials intentionally shun things their parents do

This is something that, amazingly, is facing Facebook right now-millennials running into their parents and their parent’s friends on social media and not wanting to be like them. Blog after blog has been written about how millennials eschew owning a home, a landline phone, a car, getting married, checking accounts, etc. Lumped in with this is how to give to a nonprofit. There can be no doubt that millennials and direct mail giving are a total mismatch.

5. Credit card info on a form is an identity-theft no-no (and a major PCI risk)

If I don’t have a checking account (see above) and use a credit card to make purchases to get points and perks then I either go online (again, see above) or I have to fill out your form with my personal information and hand it to a total stranger. Hello opportunity for identity theft. Right next to me, at arm’s length while I stare at your form, is my mobile phone. Please let me fill out a donation form on my phone that has been designed for my phone. All nonprofits should stop using paper credit card forms for gifts.

6. The USPS, fuel costs and a bad rep for a heavy carbon footprint

The rolling train wreck that is the USPS and their bosses in Congress will continue to drive postage rates higher and higher. Fuel costs play a role too and I don’t see $2 gas on the horizon. I defy anyone to look at direct mail as a benefit to the environment. How can it be? I once read that one day’s direct mail can heat 250,000 homes.

Can a carbon tax on direct mail be too far off?

7. Results

I have spoken to many nonprofits and when I ask about direct mail they say 1) it still “works” and 2) it’s a break-even branding exercise for us or 3) we won’t do it. Break-even is fine for awhile but when the 80,000,000 millennials are the ones your nonprofit will rely on then what?

The ROI on direct mail is weak at best. We have seen campaigns on our platform reach almost 3000% ROI. Direct mail will NEVER reach this level EVER.

8. Ever shared a direct mail nonprofit call-to-action with a friend?

I have never shared a piece of nonprofit direct mail with a neighbor or a friend because it’s way easier to share online via email and social media and all nonprofits should use social media for this very reason-it’s all about sharing.

At the center of sharing is mobile phones. Direct mail cannot foster or grow sharing. Period.

9. Your appeal goes into my stack of bills

I may be alone in this behavior but I don’t think so. Anytime I thought I might want to open a nonprofit’s direct mail piece it went into my pile of bills so I could respond when I paid my bills after I saw what was leftover money-wise for the month. If bills were high, no gift. This isn’t fulfilling my impulse which occurred when I decided to keep your direct mail piece. If giving only took 20 seconds I might have made a gift right then and there.

My stack of bills is no place for a call-to-give and being seen as a bill is bad for a nonprofit.

Dale Knoop is part of a great team working to make RAZ Mobile a great platform for any cause engaged in fundraising. Any cause can create an content-rich mobile presence, share it through text messages, social media, QR codes, advertising and more and best of all-quickly and securely process donations from motivated supporters. Dale holds multiple patents and applications for patent in the mobile space including advertising, content optimization, geo-targeting and negative QOS.

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