Public Media, Direct Mail, Strategy & Planning


Good morning, everyone. This month’s topic is the forgotten factors and acquisition mail. My name is Amy Houke list broker and data analyst with Allegiance for a little over 22 years now.
My focus is in acquisition mail.

One of the most expensive tools that you’ll use to acquire new donors or members will be acquisition mail. I think you probably all know that looking at your budgets. So my time is spent making sure that the mail that you send out now in an attempt to acquire new folks on your file, works as hard as possible
for Allegiance clients. So we’re fine tuning what is mail, where it’s mailed to and also to whom it’s mailed. It is easy to get caught up in certain aspects of your acquisition mail when you’re in a planning mode. You’ve got the creative and copy writing process, which no doubt takes some of your time. You’re working on timing and coordination and offers, not to mention testing.

So there are a lot of things happening but some of the greatest sources of impact to your acquisition mail can easily be forgotten. And I think that’s what I want to highlight for you today. We’re going to touch on a couple of those. The first factor is location, Unless you are a national organization, you have a very specific service area. Perhaps that’s a signal area. If you’re a public entity, you’re limited where you can mail really where you should mail, but sometimes where you’re actually licensed to mail and raise funds in acquisition mail. So it’s hard to think in terms of trying to limit that very limited area, even more.
I get it. But given the cost of acquisition direct mail, likely again, one of your more expensive channels, you really do have to mail a smartly as you can. Blanketing your entire service area may not be the smartest approach to mailing. So I would submit that you should take a look at your donors by zip code.
That is actually a fairly easy report to run out of your database. And then compare that to the total number of households in each zip code and see if you have a meaningful presence and where. That’s a real indication of where you have made an impact in the community where people know and love you.
Sometimes it’s a factor of competing same sector non-profit or competing with a public media station that’s that you’re fighting for eyeballs on. And so you see where you actually made some traction. So that household data by zip code, it’s certainly available online. But I think it’s usually an individual zip code book that can be quite arduous.

So via Allegiance, I’m only happy to help you with that, if you wish. Liked some help with calculating those donor penetrations we’ll, get your file and I’ll just follow up with me after the webinar.
I’d further ask you beyond just looking at your penetration at a physical level, I’ve actually asked that you look a little bit harder at those zip codes that have been a part of the mailing program all along. If you’ve been asking for gifts, you’ve been asking for new donations, new donors, new memberships any period of time, presumably your donor counts should reflect that.

If they don’t, you have to ask the hard question of why your mail continues to go there. As costly as it is, we want to avoid that. And if you see that actually have a decent number of donors without you ever having solicited funds, there via mail, think in terms of what you might actually be able to do when you start actively mailing into those areas.

So there’s two different ways to look at it. At a very minimum. If you haven’t taken a pretty hard look at where you’re going, I will strongly encourage you to.

So incorrect or un-targeted, or I would call it non-intentional, mailing can take two forms. The first is really that untapped potential the missed opportunities that you’re not targeting but probably ought to be. They contain donors that are just waiting for the opportunity, waiting for your request, waiting for the vehicle to support you.

So it really represents an untapped potential. Some people call it money left on the table. We could refer to it as leading the lower hanging fruit. And so when it showed that we’re asking for gifts where the gifts, so right for bidding. The other form it can take is wasting money the zips that you’re mailing and you shouldn’t be, you’re continuing to pay for the production of mail packages, the envelopes, et cetera, printing creative costs, copy writing, all that good stuff, not so much in postage to put mail into areas that you won’t ever really see any fruit from. We really want to avoid that. And I refer to this as just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. You want mailing to be intentional and not a waste of your money.
Yes. So stepping back to the, I want to talk about is is how you’re doing in your suppression. So it’s right about the time you guys can probably all relate, but about the time that you’re swamped with those final proofs of your artwork and copy and you’re neck high in that, probably being asked to produce your suppression file.

It’s the last thing that you have time for. I understand. In my career though, I have discovered that one of the largest barriers to the success of acquisition mail is an incorrect suppression file. This is the only time you’ll hear me say this today, but if you haven’t paid attention yet, and even if you log off right this minute, I would want to make sure that you hear just one thing out of today’s webinar.

And that is this. The largest barrier to success in the mail is an incorrect suppression file. So suppression file creation is not one of the funner, more graphic or sexy parts of planning, a campaign that’s typically not on the list of things that you strategize about when you’re setting up the campaign.

It’s not one of the things that you talk about and think that it really has to play much of of a role all in a campaign or more than likely, it’s actually a task that’s handled by maybe one of your database staff in your organization that doesn’t actually get a whole lot of input from you. But given that your audience represents 60% of what works or doesn’t work in a campaign and this messes with your audience, that stands to reason that it is important.

If you don’t suppress people who should be suppressed, you likely receive complaints. No one wants that. I understand that the station you’ve got current donors and members who are receiving new acquisition mail. I understand. But I believe that at least in part, it’s that fear of complaints that causes most organizations to over suppress.

I’m missing to some of those people, in the suppression file getting a few complaints. That is a consequence. But comparing that to the consequences of over suppressing, I think makes it an easy decision. What happens when we suppress people who shouldn’t be suppressed, we are in essence, locking their mailboxes and essentially locking their ability to support your organization.

Yes, they can give through other means. Yes. They may be in contact with your organization in other ways.
But you really have stopped giving them the easy vehicle of the mail and reply envelope to support your organization, this happens when we’re suppressing people who gave to the organization, but 13 years ago. We’re not taking into account the things that change in their life stage, changes that occur as they grow older, they’re changing interests and ability to give, all those things that might have caused them to want to give again.

So if you never modify that criteria most specifically the gift dates, you’ll be suppressing larger and larger numbers of people over time which will continually shrink your prospect universe. You’ll pay more and more for those names, because as you don’t do the merge purge you’ll throw away more and more names.
But most importantly, of course, it will cause your response rates to go down.

So just a few tips for you. Here’s a very short concise instruction list of how to pull a suppression file. Someone is not giving to you now, and you’re no longer actively trying to get them to give again.
And they haven’t asked you to please not mail them. If those things are not true, then they should not be being suppressed. Let’s let those folks have an opportunity to give. Just a little case in point. We recently heartily celebrated with one of our clients, a large market public television station who had been for many years chronically over suppressing.

But frankly, they were afraid to mess with their suppress file file criteria. You may hear this in your in your organization as well. They haven’t had some staff changes. They have made some significant database changes. They had a profound lack of documentation about the suppressed file theories. And they really just, quite frankly, were afraid to screw things up. But at our encouragement and, a lot of scrutinization of the theory they took a leap of faith and their gross to net ratio,

so the number of names they retained in the merge, went from a measly 49% all the way up to 58%. What that means is they threw away far fewer names, which means they rented far fewer names to get what they needed to put in the mail, and that saved them a ton of money. You don’t have to be a wizard to know that the lower cost of acquisition has a direct impact on your bottom line and net revenue. So the critical takeaway here is not only was it a fix ongoing, but in that first campaign, when you have essentially unlocked the mailboxes of people you had blocked for many years, you can imagine what the response rate of this campaign and ongoing have improved substantially. So lots of things to celebrate there, cost savings, obviously results.

And lastly, I want to tell you the issue of chasing the wrong carrot. If you will. We tend to follow straight response rate. Maybe that was a combination of average gift as a metrics that you focus on when we’re evaluating lists. However, when we look at multiple campaigns or at an average response rate across multiple campaigns, response rate pretty quickly falls short as a tool to make decisions on. It’s a good indicator, but you will have successful campaigns and not so successful campaigns in each of those instances is going to have an impact on its overall average response rate.

So we have some kind of false success and false failure happening simply because a campaign did unusually well on usually poorly. So really have to look at the full campaign. You have to look at all of the lists that mailed in any given campaign and how each one of them did in relation to the campaign’s average.
When I say the campaign, really with the packages average. So if you were to have tested two packages, head-to-head we really want to know what was each package capable of generating in terms of response rate and how did each this do against that? In any individual list scenario will even be better than that, better than average or below average.

So it helps us to level the playing field if you will. And being, looking at legitimate and usable data in terms of evaluating list usage. I would say, if you need any help, figuring out how to level the playing field with indexing. Again, just follow up with me after the webinar.

So just to summarize the package that you mail, the offers that you test, the timing, all of those things are very important to spend time on when campaign planning. None of what I presented today minimizes the importance of those elements. But some of those less sexy and a little bit more granular, I would say data focused things, are just as critical if not more to each and every one of your acquisition things, campaigns and, how successful they are.

So I try to point out, sometimes those of us who are data-driven, we’re muddled down in that work and it’s helpful just to uncover some of those some of those forgotten factors. But most of us don’t think about. I appreciate all of you guys taking some time with me today. . My contact information is on the screen. Do feel free to reach out to me to get any assistance you need. Or any questions on today’s content. Have a great rest of your day.