Just When You Thought Direct Mail Was Dead | npENGAGE

Just When You Thought Direct Mail Was Dead

By on Nov 10, 2010


Multichannel Communication

It’s baaack! You thought direct mail was dead but it has returned. Actually, it’s single channel communication that’s dead. Here is more proof that multichannel is alive and well.

Donors Flip Channels

Dunham+Company has new data out in “A National Survey of the Impact of Offline Communication on Online Donations.” The study was part of a Campbell Rinker Donor Confidence Survey of 510 adults nationwide who had given at least $20 to charity in the prior year.

37% of respondents said that they respond using the charity’s website when they get a fundraising letter in the mail. 53% said they still respond to mail by using the mail. 6% said the reason they donated online was because of an email appeal vs. 14% because they received a letter.

Donors flip channels. This was true even before Al Gore invented the Internet. That’s because humans come pre-wired to be multichannel. The key for nonprofits is to focus on the experience a donor has when they switch channels. Is it easy? Is it consistent? Is it personal? Or is it fragmented and clumsy? Successful organizations make channel flipping effortless and effective.

Always Read the Fine Print

It should be noted that all respondents were contacted via the Internet. That means there’s a survey bias in the results. The same coverage bias happens in telephone surveys too. This isn’t a knock against the study, but it’s important to keep things in context. What people say and what people actually do are often different.

There is also some missing information in the report that would be helpful to know like how did these donors make their first gift, how long have they been donors, how many nonprofits do they donate to, does gift amount vary by channel, etc. These answers are more likely to be found in actual data than through a survey.

Direct Mail and Consumer Behavior

The powerful combination of direct mail and online is something the retail sector has embraced. According to Experian’s Direct Marketing Report 2010, direct mail advertising represents 52% of total mail volume in the United States. 74% of households either read or scan direct mail they receive. Today, 61% of catalog orders are placed online compared to 50% in 2006. Consumers that received a catalog spent 28% more on the retailer’s site than those that did not receive one. Catalog shoppers tend to be more qualified leads when they arrive at the Website (versus those who use search engines) and thus more likely to convert to buyers.

This can be traced to a number of factors. One of which is that there is a high degree of online advertising fatigue and direct mail can bypass the screen clutter. The research continues to show that direct mail + online works very well for re-engaging existing customers. Reactivation is the new acquisition and continuing to cultivate existing donors is still a very sound strategy.

It’s Generational (Not)

The donorCentrics Internet Giving Benchmarking Group recently reviewed 2009 giving data for 14 very large nonprofit organizations. The analysis found that 2% of donors under the age of 35 only gave offline. Compare that to 10% of those under 35 that only gave online and 6% of those donors that gave both online and offline in 2009.

The same analysis found that donors age 65 or older only give offline 53% of the time. But 18% of these donors only give online and 25% give both online and offline. This busts a whole in the myth that only younger donors give online. And continues to make the case for the importance of multichannel giving options as part of a successful fundraising strategy.

There has been a lot of talk and predictions about the differences between the generations. Clearly there are differences between Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Thumb. But I think it’s naive to think that generations are all one thing or don’t change certain behaviors. These things tend to get overstated for the purposes of making headlines. Donors of all ages continue to grow their use of online channels and there’s data to prove it.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

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