When some folks discover that I create direct response fundraising, they feel compelled to reproach me for the industry’s practices. I am scolded for address labels, greeting cards, and calendars. I am lectured on the wisdom of wasting resources for success rates that, under the best circumstances, rarely exceed 1% to cold audiences. I am chided for destroying forests in the pursuit of nonprofit overhead.
What I hear more and more, especially from the under-50 crowd, is that traditional offline channels are a dying medium, and those organizations who cling to them are either irresponsible or doomed to extinction.
Sometimes their reproach is justified. Too often we fundraisers fall back on tired, over-utilized “best practices” and settle for sound but not particularly breakthrough outcomes.
Sometimes I get a little ticked off. And not because much of the criticism comes from people who neither understand the mechanics of the business, nor the psychodynamics of public charitable giving. No forward-thinking organization I am aware of is anything but circumspect (if not downright proactive) about measures they can take today to ensure the philanthropy of future generations of American donors.
The truth is that, especially as an acquisition medium, direct mail still works. And not just to seniors. It still works, often in conjunction with other channels, to donors under the age of 50, who, by the way, have generally less discretionary income to commit to charity.
To a large measure, the power of digital media as acquisition tools is still being discovered. They are incredibly powerful engagement and retention channels, with revenue potential that is still yet to be truly tapped. However, for attracting new donors — especially those that stick with an organization over time — email, search, banner, social, and the like, taken on their own, are still works in progress.
Moreover, social media, as it turns out, is not even particularly good at engagement and retention. A recent study by the journal Sociological Science was conducted on Facebook’s Save Darfur Cause. Essentially, it confirmed what direct response fundraisers already know. Continue reading