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2014: What’s Hot, What’s Not in Fundraising Direct Mail

Production Solutions

*You can also read a version of Cheryl’s 2014 advice under the “DM Deconstructed” section in the January 2014 issue of Fundraising Success magazine.

Out with the old, in with the new. In “direct mail-speak” old means…lessons learned. New or “in” trends may actually mean campaigns/techniques/formats/behaviors that have been tested and had great results by others; now it’s your turn to try them.

Here are some trending behaviors and techniques I’ve been carefully observing and hearing about throughout 2013. I came up with these two dozen What’s INs and What’s OUTs by: scrutinizing award winning direct mail packages; having discussions with printers/ writers/ fundraisers; learning lots of best practices from conferences in the nonprofit and commercial industries; attending the DMAW Lunch & Learn presentations by direct mail experts; meeting with my colleagues and our clients; and finally, by looking at, touching and critiquing every piece of direct mail that crosses my desk.

What’s “IN”

  • Building Stronger Relationships with Donors – retention and cultivation!
  • Planning for Postage Savings Opportunities: the USPS Mail Incentive Programs for 2014 – each offer has unique qualifying criteria with most available to first class, standard and nonprofit mailers. Discounts range but many offer 2% postage savings. Encouraging campaign integration, the proposed Mail and Digital Personalization Promotion incents mailers to connecting print with web and/or mobile experiences. Suggested promotions are scheduled throughout 2014 with details about the Nonprofit Special Offers found here.
  • Increased Versioning/Segmentation and Personalization Beyond RFM – e.g. tailored messages specific to giving groups, interests and preferences. These approaches vary from the simple male vs. female-centric address label design, language announcing annual mailings “as requested” and special callouts recognizing unique milestones, anniversaries and levels of commitment.
  • Faster and More Variable Printing – digital printing to supports “on demand” testing and high quality 4 color inkjet capabilities are just two ways to support the testing of images and messaging without the cost of plate changes.
  • Synchronized Media Campaigns – using full service Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) data including delivery trends and in home dates to trigger well timed integrated marketing communications: email announcements of pending direct mail communications, direct mail follow ups, phone calls, fulfillment support, website lead cultivation and timely acknowledgements.
  • Increased Engagement and Cultivation Strategies –scoring donor engagement/loyalty. Creating opportunities for donors to share their preferences in “their” words – through surveys, petitions, bounce backs, and “their vote.”
  • Quality… and Quantity – more frequent and personal touches – member/sponsor cards, thank you’s without an “ask,” handwritten acknowledgment notes, special event and holiday greeting cards, postcard updates.
  • Extraordinary Storytelling – sharing organizational experiences to inspire action. Engaging the senses and bringing the story to life through the choice of textures, color, images and format.
  • Scorecards – providing a measure of success through infographic summaries, special reports and performance benchmarks.
  • Mission Focused “Thank You” Gifts – calendars, frame worthy photos and certificates, notecard sets, notepads, educational booklets, bookmarks, address labels and honor cards.
  • Hi-Dollar Formats – Special Delivery, RSVP-style formats –for loyal segments with the emphasis on special recognition and creating opportunities for increased levels of commitment.

What’s “OUT”

  • Communication silos.
  • Dirty/non-integrated data: Incorrect salutations, misspellings, move updates not recorded quickly; bad email addresses.
  • Not knowing your donors: not asking for data, not listening, and not acting upon/using what you do know.
  • Cutting back or eliminating acquisition.
  • Infrequent donor communication.
  • Asking for money in every communication.
  • Impersonal and untimely “thank you’s.”
  • One size fits all – communication that doesn’t fit the level of giving.
  • Status Quo – not enough testing.
  • Not acting on data.
  • ONLY using RFM as the primary driver of segmentation strategy and personalized content.
  • Mail dates – silos of communication and no coordination of in home (inbox) dates.
  • One time gifts – no 2nd gift strategy.

I leave you with one parting thought to ponder in 2014…if the sky was the limit, budgets were not a concern and postage was cheap again…what would you do for your direct mail program that you know would move your donors and clients to respond to your call to action? I’d love to know what you think. Email me at I will reprint responses in the next DM Deconstructed article in Fundraising Success.

Have a happy, cost-effective and highly successful year!