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How Much Is Too Much for High-End Direct Mail Packs?

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Great question from an alert reader: I was talking about the power of elaborate mid-value direct mail packs. You know, the kind that mails in a special envelope, has a multi-page letter, and all kinds of interesting enclosures. It can cost $2 per piece and up … and is usually worth every cent when mailed to the right donors.

The question was this: How often can you send a pack like that? Does it wear out its welcome?

Answer: You could send an elaborate, expensive direct mail pack to your mid-value donors every time, all year ’round. It would be no harm, from the donors’ point of view. You can mail these to every donor who meets the criteria for a high-end mailing according to RFV+ selection (that is, they’ve given recently and of high enough amounts, along with any additional information like survey responses, preference choices, what they’ve told gift officers).

But — and I almost hesitate to say this — it isn’t just about the donor.

It probably takes 25-50% more effort to make these packs, and up to double the pre-production creative costs. So far, so good, because you’re spending more to make more.

For most organisations I’ve worked with, the cost of these elaborate packs — in terms of time, creative, planning, and associated opportunity cost — mean that doing one of these packs every time may not raise more money! It’s more revenue, but maybe not enough more!

This is one reason agency models that rely on print and production income have never found a way to integrate them into their client offering. The boost in net revenue and long-term income are great. But the profit margin for each elaborate project doesn’t always pencil out!

In Australia our costs for post, print, and everything else are (on average) much, much more than in North America. But so are our response rates and average donations.

So in Australia, most charities do just four direct mail cash campaigns plus a couple of other programs. A solid program for an average charity I would have worked with is 15,000 to 20,000 donors who make the grade to be mailed plus 3,000 monthly givers would look like this:

  • Survey in Jan/Feb
  • Bequest follow up Feb-April (and year round conversion)
  • Autumn / Easter campaign around March/April
  • Tax campaign around May
  • Tax follow up in June
  • Monthly giving campaign July / August (phone and mail, upgrade and conversion)
  • Spring campaign around September
  • Christmas campaign around October/November
  • Christmas follow up November/December

However, if I had a big team, 100,000+ donors and was raising over $1m from the big appeals I would be doing these elaborate packs to a carefully selected audience every time.

As for those high-end Express Post style outer envelopes. I have a theory — not yet proven — that they might “wear out” after a while and lose their impact. That’s why I’ve made sure that donors only receive one of those a year. No charities here had volumes to ever test that properly so we erred on the side of caution.

Conclusion: You should mail these elaborate packs as often as possible — but not more! Think about the most effective use of staff time. Don’t “wear them out” with constantly preparing high-end direct mail.

Would you like to become an expert on creating these awesome packs and dramatically boost your appeal income? Check out my Mid Value Donor Super Course that is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

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