Direct mail remains one of the most effective forms of communication for many nonprofit organizations, who use it for everything from branding and awareness-building to fundraising for programs and operations.
Printers can help their nonprofit customers send more effective direct-mail pieces and better serve their missions in a variety of ways: creative design, more diverse uses, better data, greater frequency, and — perhaps most important of all given the importance of the personal touch in philanthropy — improved communication with donors, including better storytelling.
Mike Barker, GM, U.S. Document; CIO for Mimeo in New York City, says he and his colleagues are also seeing an increase in direct-mail volumes among non-profit organizations. “Even though we live in a digital age, direct mail is starting to once again become a popular facet of marketing.”
The uses of direct mail are increasing, Barker notes, as nonprofits, “are now brainstorming different content ideas to put in mailboxes all over the world. Whether it’s a booklet of information, brochure of donation options, or personalized postcards, nonprofits now have plenty of options that put content directly in the hands of recipients.”
Electronic media has slowed down the need and frequency for direct mail, according to Barker. “The simplicity that comes with sending an email compared to the complexities of writing, producing, and delivering direct mail is what has driven nonprofits in adapting to digital distribution.” With more nonprofits transitioning to online distribution however, there is now, “a big opportunity for those using direct mail to take advantage of the chance to stand out from those with digital distribution models.”
Direct mail has continued to grow steadily in recent years, agrees Lauren O’Connor, director of marketing for Primoprint in Huntersville, N.C. With technology increasingly serving as the primary means of delivery of events, retail sales, and product/services, direct mail enables businesses to target specific groups by having a tangible impact directly at the door.
“Growth has increased, and the number of uses has also shifted in how customers utilize direct mail,” says O’Connor. There are many traditional mailers with coupons, offers, and other information, of course. “However local events and governments have used them for announcements, calendar dates, and notifications effectively. Direct mailers in this case effectively serve as a reminder to folks in their communities.”
Now more than ever, direct mail has a stronger and more lasting impact on customers, O’Connor feels, as media increases communication delivery electronically. “It’s easier to unsubscribe or ignore an email; it’s not as easy with a direct mail piece. In general, we’re receiving less direct mail in mailboxes, with an increase of time between mailers. In fact, technology has made it so that direct mail is a great way to reach customers. Effectively, it’s created a resurgence in more traditional communications.”
Storytelling for organizations has become the prominent focus on many direct mail pieces, O’Connor suggests. “Localized stories of those who live in the community are included with images, names. and sometimes their families, as well as what they do. It enables the organizations to better humanize themselves and their approach to outreach.”
It also establishes validity, and provides credibility to an organization at a local level, she adds, including nonprofit goals and the fact that funds “won’t be leaving a community, and will likely have an impact on members of neighbors close to them.”
To that end, one of the most important services Primoprint offers is in-house design. Crafting a creative, thoughtful piece of direct mail is not an easy task, O’Connor emphasizes, and should be done in partnership. “Utilizing creative expertise for such an investment is paramount. Having designed thousands of pieces… we’ve seen it all, and are firm believers in working with our customers directly from the start in order to ensure they’re proud of their direct mail.”
Printers should always ensure the customer understands the process and the timing for both mailing and receiving direct mail pieces so they can plan accordingly, O’Connor cautions. “Many customers are not as familiar with the steps, with the U.S. Postal System, or how timing really can be everything.”
O’Connor foresees that direct mail will continue to be a “great” growth opportunity for printers and nonprofits, “especially when applying them in a larger strategic integrated marketing plans. Local and national nonprofits can benefit from the printer’s expertise when trying to finalize their goals for the direct mail piece itself and future mailings.”
“We see a greater focus on communicating more frequently and telling better stories to illustrate the impact donations allow for the organization,” says Denise Spalding, owner and president of HighNote in Louisville, Ky.
A report put out by the Giving USA Foundation that provides data, insights, and trends to inform fundraising strategies notes that for the first time in 2018, giving by individuals fell below 70% of overall giving for the first time since 1954. “With overall giving down and the baby-boomer generation shrinking,” Spalding notes, “personalized direct mail is definitely growing and driving results.”
Spalding sees the number of varied uses for direct mail increasing as well. “We see growth in the number of uses, including more frequent impact reports, appeals, gift acknowledgements, donor recruitment, and donor retention direct mail — all using personalization and dynamic graphics.”
While some nonprofits have moved away from direct mail in favor of electronic media, knowing a particular donor’s communication preferences is also critical.
For example, Spalding explains, eliminating printed newsletters and printed reply envelopes, “negatively impacted some of our nonprofit clients, and they have reactivated those print programs. We believe a comprehensive omni-channel approach is necessary. Direct mail is vital, trackable, and delivers results, and should be part of the communication strategies.”
Printers, she feels, can help nonprofits design more effective direct mail pieces to better serve their missions by providing much-needed client education in the areas of how to use donor data to clone look-alike prospective donors, as well as how to use existing data to increase donation amounts. Spalding advises printers however, that when using confidential donor data, care has to be taken to ensure accuracy and confidentiality.
Generation X is smaller than the boomer generation, Spalding points out, and so offers fewer replacement donors. “I think there is an opportunity to prove the value of print in keeping donors connected to the cause, and to help increase donation amounts. There is an opportunity to cultivate small-dollar donors who will give year after year, promote monthly giving, and ask donors to give more and give monthly.”
All of these areas, she concludes, can prove to be opportunities for printers to use their creativity to help solve a host of challenges now and in the years to come.
Direct mail “is looking to make a comeback,” Barker points out, “meaning printers need to prepare and upgrade their production facilities to fit potential demand.” Nonprofit direct mail remains focused on what is most relevant to recipients. By providing the right content at the right time, those that receive documents in their mailboxes will be more likely to donate or volunteer with a nonprofit organization.
“To help complement their initiatives,” he adds, printers need to offer on-demand and offset printing for nonprofits that wish to take advantage of direct mail. “Having access to all types of vendors for various print jobs will keep nonprofits satisfied with their print providers, thus allowing for direct mail to have a bright future.”
Howard Riell is a veteran journalist who has written and edited for more than 200 business and consumer publications, national trade associations, advertising/PR agencies, newspapers, research firms, newsletters, non‑profit groups, e‑zines, blogs, manufacturers, and other clients across the country and abroad.