Over the past six months, I’ve traversed this beautiful country of ours and met with many of our valued ministry partners and the national networks, leadership communities, research institutions, and think tanks that govern and serve in philanthropy – specifically, within the Christian nonprofit sector.
In my decades of nonprofit service, never have I been SO INSPIRED by the bright minds, loyal service, and the team and community leadership as I am at this moment.
I’ve witnessed the powerful work and powerfully committed people who are locking arms to expand and accelerate their ministry outreach to offer even more restoration, grace, and hope for the hurting. The generosity of your hearts is being released in practical ways that transform lives forever.
What a blessing it is to journey together in this fight.
TRENDWATCH: MAIL VS. DIGITAL?
Without question, one of the most frequent strategy-oriented questions I’m asked pertains to the trends, efficiency, and sustainability of direct mail as a direct response channel and still our most significant platform for connecting with supporters to inspire their partnership.
As Trendwatchers, we’re witnessing the digital revolution expand to include and engage all ages, races, sexes, and economic demographics. Without question, we need to not only be aware of how donors are migrating to new communication platforms, but we must challenge ourselves to also be ever-present across them – including websites, email, social media, and mobile applications – with consistent messaging and brand presentation.
But is it time in 2020 to pivot and reallocate a significant portion of our direct mail budgets to marketing and fundraising online?
Asked another way: “Is direct mail dying and soon-to-be extinct?”
The direct answer is – NO. Let me share two important reasons why not.
1 – The proof is in the numbers.
Even as we’re thrilled to participate in the growing response to fundraising online and do recommend working together to increase investment into digital efforts this year and each forward, nationwide and across the nonprofit ecosystem digital fundraising still represents a modest percentage of how and where donors give.
Whereas digital mediums provide quick and efficient utility for responding to calls-to-action, studies show people still spend more time with mail pieces (i.e. they’ll read and engage more of our message), your brand has greater stickiness and visibility because the pieces “hang around” longer, and as of 2019, donors still have a higher level of trust in the security of their private information in the mail. In short, mail still delivers the goods.
Finally, donors are still more likely to continue to give via the mail channel if they’ve donated that way before. For all these reasons, we’d certainly not want to cannibalize our results by embracing a digital-first communication strategy before our donors indicate by their preferences and behaviors that they’re ready.
2 – An innovative solution from a surprising source.
You may be aware that the United States Postal Service (USPS) as a federal agency is losing money – lots of it. In fact, in recent years it has been reported that due to increase in emailing, bloated postal infrastructure, and massive competition from private companies like Amazon and Federal Express who have virtually taken over package delivery service, the USPS loses as much as $1 billion per month. As such there’s no amount of downsizing or postal rate increases that will provide a path to profitability.
Why then, will the USPS survive? Because the federal government has essentially designated the USPS a national security agency that’s too big and important to fail.
In processing and routing mail through the USPS, every piece of posted mail is photographed and each package of significant size is scanned. This information is secured in databases and is used by national security agencies to fight organized crime and the global trafficking of illegal items and information. Without the USPS, the federal government loses optics into this vital resource entirely.
But what about consumers? What’s in it for them? The USPS too recognizes that “the times they are a changin’.”
Enter the USPS’s answer to the mail vs. digital debate: Informed Delivery.
I encourage you to read an introduction to Informed Delivery that Stephanie Tippitt, VP of Digital Services at BDI, and her team recently published, titled:
Essentially, informed delivery leverages the current USPS process by making postal mail viewable to the recipient via a private account that they can register for free. In addition to knowing what is coming in the mail and seeing the outer carrier of the piece, users can make delivery options preferences.
From our fundraising perspective, one of the most exciting features of Informed Delivery is that we, the mailers, can register our direct mail campaigns and include QR codes and hyperlinks to websites, landing pages, social media platforms and other digital expressions of your ministry. This is truly a hybrid experience where physical mail meets the web.
Today, more than 20 million Americans have registered for Informed Delivery. Over the course of the next 5 years, The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers reports that the US government, in conjunction with the USPS, intends to invest tens of millions of dollars promoting Informed Delivery and educating the public about this practical, free resource that adds significant value to both consumers and organizations that rely on direct mail to deliver their important messages.
As the digital world continues to become more pervasive and normative in the lives of our audiences, Informed Delivery and other technologies that are in development may be exciting tools to add to our portfolio of outreach strategies that allow nonprofits to connect and relate to donors on their terms, when and where they prefer.
It makes sense why we’d ask the question about direct mail viability and keep this key issue top of mind.
- Direct mail may be the largest single investment in our fundraising and communications budget.
- As good stewards we are motivated to accomplish more at all times with the resources and trust given to us by donors.
- And, as excellent leaders and wise business people we want to back the right horse, run with our winners, and leverage trends that are revolutionizing communications.
We at BDI stand with you in each of those vital goals and in your mission.
So, for now we’ll continue to ride our direct mail stallion across the plains of impact to release generosity that fuels our missions. And, we’ll continue to test and invest in the newer and growing digital landscape to meet our audiences where they are.
As I work this year with the Giving Institute, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, Direct Marketing Association, the Christian Leadership Alliance, and of course through our own research and the insight gained from the fundraising initiatives results of our family of partners, I’ll look forward to sharing with you what’s working best, what’s showing promise, and where we should go next together.
After all, together we thrive!