Cover Story: Prospecting for Smiles
"Part of the reason why that's happening is print costs are going up," Littlefield says. "At the same time, outside response lists are starting to cannibalize each other." So organizations retain fewer and fewer donor names after a merge/purge because of the overlap.
"Some of that," Littlefield continues, "is just due to the maturity of our industry, as direct mail has grown and as these charities have grown over long periods of time—for most cases, 30 years of direct marketing—the lists are starting to look more and more alike."
That means charities have to be smarter and more efficient, Littlefield says, instead of operating the way they did 20 years ago.
"So, actually," she says, "Smile Train is ahead of the curve in that 70 percent [of its fundraising revenue] is coming from direct mail and other channels provide the balance."
Ma is quite aware of the potential for channel fatigue. Plus, she knows strategies can wear out. Before implementing the prospect database, Smile Train employed a traditional list plan, exchanged lists with other charities, rented lists and used list management. It just wasn't enough.
"Like Gretchen was mentioning, there's cannibalization of list rentals and … traditional response lists," Ma says. "So I think nonprofits are always challenged to identify new ways to attract more donors. But, for now, direct mail is still the high-volume way for us to acquire new donors."
That means, for now, the prospect database helps direct mail continue to be the best way to raise money to fix 120,000 children's cleft lips and palates each year.
As she's been doing since 2005, when she came onto Smile Train as its vice president of marketing and development—responsible for worldwide marketing and fundraising—Ma will still be looking to help the organization improve its marketing and grow its donor base.