Special Olympics focuses on long-term donor value while continuing to invest in acquisition
Having an eye toward long-term donor value means you can’t just focus on getting good response to your next mailing campaign. You have to think in terms of donor lifecycles—from first-time renewals through retention and even to recapturing lapsed or dormant donors. As Joan Wheatley, vice president of donor development for Special Olympics Inc., knows, any one of these existing donor segments with whom you’ve established a relationship is likely to have a higher lifetime value than a batch of just-acquired names.
For example, when it comes to renewal mailings, Special Olympics is balancing several different donor tracks—among them, new donors, high-value donors, lapsed donors, as well as local and state-based campaign elements, says Wheatley. (Special Olympics’ local affiliates, which it calls “Programs,” also do their own direct mailings. However, those mailings are not fundraising offers; they consist of newsletters, educational materials, thank-you efforts and invitations.)
In terms of volume, the national organization mailed more than 21 million acquisition pieces and another 14 million renewal pieces in 2003. “Our strategy is to grow the donor file but with a focus on maintaining the strong donor base we’ve already achieved,” Wheatley says. “What’s key is finding a balance between acquisition and retention strategies. That’s how you achieve higher overall lifetime value.”
Despite the economy over the past several years, Special Olympics has been able to maintain an ongoing investment in direct mail fundraising—even on the acquisition side. “We’ve been able to ride out the storms and continue to mail to acquire new donors to maintain and grow our donor base,” says Wheatley, who works with a staff of direct response professionals, including Connie Grandmason, Steve Scott, Shannon McCracken, Ashlie Kerr and Meredith Petouvis.
Data about its donors plays an important role in Special Olympics’ direct mail program. “We have the great, good fortune in working with Special Olympics that the file is large [and] the program is about 15 years old now. So they have a lot of data that’s rich in the process of data mining,” says Lisa Smith, vice president of client services for Special Olympics’s agency, LW Robbins Associates, in Holliston, Mass.