Cover Story: Prospecting for Smiles
Direct mail is Smile Train's fundraising workhorse, Ma says. That's not by accident.
"We call it our 'investment analysis approach,' where we take a look at every single channel," Ma says. "We take a look at how each list or how each newspaper title or magazine title is performing with initial donation, as well as with one-, two-, three-, four-, five-year payback. And [we look at] how the donor is acquired from each list or each newspaper title or magazine title or TV station."
Smile Train then evaluates how well each channel is performing in the short-term and the long-term, and makes monthly planning decisions based on the analysis.
"If you see us in a newspaper, like you pick up the Boston Globe or New York Times and you see us in that ad, that's because that newspaper is performing well enough for us and bringing in a valuable enough donor for us to continue advertising in it," Ma says. "Same thing if you see us on a website in an online banner ad."
If Smile Train's not in a channel, the organization hasn't yet tested it or it didn't perform well. One such channel, which Ma emphasizes she hasn't given up on, is radio.
So direct mail greets Smile Train donors every year. From July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, Smile Train's core retention program sent out 15.6 million direct mail pieces. The 33,000 major donors also received postal correspondence during fiscal year 2011.
And then there were the 98.9 million prospect mailings that represented the largest change in Smile Train's direct mail list marketing efforts for the year.
Smile Train's efforts to branch out into other channels are prescient, Littlefield says, because while the majority of donations still come through direct mail for most charities (a statistic backed up by Blackbaud's "2011 donorCentrics Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report," see the chart below), many nonprofits are struggling with the fact that direct mail costs are increasing while their response rates are decreasing.