List Exchange for Nonprofits (487 words)
By Lisa Yorgey Lester
A list exchange is an agreement between two mailers to make their lists available to each other on an even trade basis, rather than charging the usual rental fee.
A mailer may consider such an arrangement if it's getting a good response on a list, but the cost of the list is not efficient, or a mailer with a similar audience or with whom you share an affinity doesn't make its list available for rent. For these reasons, list exchanges are frequently used by non-profit organizations for donor acquisition.
Here, Margaret Guellich, a certified fund-raising executive who has worked for non-profit organizations such as Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Catholic Relief Services, provides a few points to ponder when considering a list exchange.
The size of your file matters. Your list must be large enough that you are not exchanging all of your names to any one organization, cautions Guellich. She advises mailers to look at the segment to be selected, which in the case of a non-profit ordinarily is $10 to $49 donors who are three- to 24-months active. "As long as that number is at 25,000 you should be OK. Anything smaller could leave the organization exchanging all of its names," she explains.
Do your homework. Before you exchange names, you want to know as much about the list with which you are exchanging as possible. Says Guellich, "You want some indication of performance for similar organizations; the ability to roll out, and assurance that neither your list nor the exchanged list is too heavily weighted with low or high donors or those that have not given in 13 to 25 months."
Most often the initial exchanges are small: 5,000 to 10,000 names. "You want to view it as a test and anything lower than 5,000 is just too small to get a reading," she adds.
Monitor performance. Exchanged names behave differently than rented names because most often they are of a higher quality and more recently active, observes Guellich, who says that as such the response rate should be somewhat higher for exchanged names than those from rented lists. (Tip: Code them differently, so when you review reports you know if a list is rented or exchanged. You may even cluster them differently.) On the flip side, because you are most likely exchanging only $10 to $49 donors and not higher, the average gift may be somewhat lower than that of rented lists, which do not ordinarily result in donors giving more than $50.
Make sure the file itself is solid. Before you consider exchanging names, your file should be a few years old and your donors pretty committed to your organization.
Always seed the file, never exchange your brand new donors and live by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—meaning update your file two to four times a year.