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SOLVING THE OVER-MAILING ISSUE

Posted by: Suzanne Lewis

One of the areas highlighted by the Olive Cooke case was just how many charity mailings she received. To some in the industry this was a huge surprise, to others less so.

How did it happen?
By being a generous and prolific donor not only would her name have been rented and swapped, but each individual charity would have contacted her according to their own internal rules.

Where are we now?
Well, charities can no longer rent or swap their data. This will have significantly impacted the volumes of mail received by those who have given to charities that released their data to third parties. However, there appears to have been less significant change in how charities contact consumers who are "their" donors, so is there anything that charities can do that will help to keep the loyalty of their donors?

What can we do?
Firstly, not all donors are the same, so treat them differently. It is amazing how many organisations treat all their 0-24mths in the same way. However someone who has donated £5 every time you have asked them is most likely different to someone who has donated £15 every other time you have mailed them. And they in turn will definitely be different to someone who may have been a very regular donor for many years, but who in the past two years has significantly reduced their donation level.

Secondly, by understanding how engaged a supporter is with your cause, and what exactly they're interested in, it is possible to build up a far more accurate picture of their value to you and how to communicate effectively with them.

However, it can be a challenge to have a "global" view of when each person has been contacted, particularly if you are lucky enough to have several "products" to talk to the consumer about. Add to this the challenge of trying to understand how the consumer has interacted with you. Maybe, for example, they received a letter or a call from you and although they didn't give, they have since gone onto your website and signed up for a newsletter.

And, while it may feel like a waste of money, when using "older" data it is always worth screening it against industry suppressions files. Yes it costs money to do, but it will save you wasting money contacting people who are no longer at an address.

Of course few charities can survive without recruiting new donors, but how do we avoid making similar mistakes to those that the critics have accused charities of? It's obviously important to engage with people who look like most committed supporters: while we all want that jammy centre of the doughnut (the most engaged, responsive supporters) there is also a place for the ring doughnut: people who are not your exact ideal supporter but similar. If we just target the same people all the time, they will tire and cease to be supporters. The trick of course is to widen the net just far enough to appeal to a slightly different audience, whilst at the same time avoid driving acquisition costs sky high.

Rather than relying solely on RFM, more detailed analysis is needed then to build a real understanding of your supporters and also to learn how to find people that look like them.

And finally whether we are communicating with our existing donors or acquiring new ones, it is essential to treat everyone we come into contact with, with respect and compassion. I appreciate that this may sound patronising, or a case of stating the obvious but it is the only way to address the difficult challenge of how to interact with the vulnerable.

So what lessons have we learnt?

  • Certainly the people who are least connected to your cause will be the most likely to attrite and also to complain about levels of contact so engaging people is key.
  • Even your most committed donors don't want to be inundated with requests to part with their money so use detailed analysis to work out what's relevant for them.
  • Shock horror, most people don't give unless they're asked but we need to improve how and when we do this.

What's certain is, in the new fundraising landscape, a solution to the over-mailing issue is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

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