Should We Pause Our Direct Mail Fundraising Program During the COVID19 Pandemic?

May 3, 2021

Let's empower our clients to grow their fundraising program without outsourcing the work to an agency.

As I write this, I’m in my home office while my teenage boys are on day four of “distance learning” as mandated by our governor. Grades aren’t in yet, so I’ll keep you posted on how well this works. (Let’s have a moment of silence for all the parents stuck inside for the next several weeks figuring out how to be teaching assistants for subjects most of us don’t remember passing.)

When I’m not looking over their shoulders making sure assignments are being turned in, I’ve been checking my inbox and we’ve had several clients reach out with the same question: “Should we hold off on direct mail fundraising while we are in the middle of this pandemic?”

It’s a fair question. With the stock market in a free fall, and people turning green when they check the status of their 401(k) – the gut reaction is to keep your dollars safely tucked in your mattress. Are charitable donations really top of mind? And if your organization is not on the “front line” combatting COVID-19, will donors want to funnel whatever dollars they do have to give to other organizations who “need it more”?

Turning off the spigot of your direct mail appeals for the time being sounds like a good idea. The idea being: people only have one thing on their mind right now, so response rates and average gifts will likely be significantly lower than normal. Plus, paper and postage are expensive, so ROI will be abysmal. It’s just not worth the cost. Right?

Well, not so fast…

Part of the success of direct mail fundraising lies in consistency. This means consistency in messaging and branding, but it also means consistency in cadence and timing. Your house file expects to see your appeals in their mailbox in the same cadence they are used to. This regular rhythm is one of the most significant reminders to give – even if they only give to 1 out of 3 (or whatever their personal pattern is). So if you change the cadence and suddenly there is a big gap in time where they see nothing from you, believe me when I tell you another organization will slip into that spot and steal your spotlight. By the time your campaigns are back up and running full speed, their charitable dollars will have been moved to another ministry or non-profit.

Now you’re in a position of trying to win them back.

So What Should You Do Instead?

First, expect results to be soft. I know that’s not fun to hear, but that’s a reality – and bringing your expectations down will make it less painful when it does exactly what we think it will: be down. It doesn’t mean the mailing wasn’t worth its salt, it’s simply a reflection of this crazy period of time we all find ourselves in. Going in with realistic expectations is key.

Second, tighten up your segmentation of who is getting your mail. Don’t be too tight and miss out on potential donors, but don’t be so loose that you’re mailing to segments with little history of giving and/or very low dollar amounts. Tighten the belt a little bit, making every package count.

Third, don’t be tone deaf. This pandemic is top of mind for everyone, so talk about it openly. You can include an insert with a message about the impact this epidemic has had on your organization – or if you can not make a direct correlation, speak to how your org is handling the crisis. However you message it, the point is that your donors know you’re working through it just as they are.

Lastly, if you want to talk about it more or have other questions – call us and let’s work through it. We’re glad to help. Until I hear from you, I’ll go back to providing “hot lunch” and supervising recess.