St. Mary’s/Westside Food Bank Alliance’s Cucitro on Fundraising
For many nonprofits, direct mail is an essential fundraising tool … and a big cost center. But not so for St. Mary’s/Westside Food Bank Alliance, which has found some creative ways to keep direct mail expenses down and revenues up. In 2005, direct mail accounted for nearly $3.3 million of the food bank’s $9.2 million fundraising revenue, explains Claudia Cucitro, the Phoenix-based organization’s associate director of development. Plus, the development team accomplished this while still investing 96 cents of every dollar raised in food bank programs. “Mail is one of the things our senior staff is committed to putting money into because it’s so cost-efficient for us,” asserts Cucitro.
Cucitro now pauses to expand on how targeting, timing, testing and simplicity have helped the food bank stay on this cost-conscious track.
TG: What are some of the tactics you use to keep your direct mail costs down?
CC: We have learned over the years to mail smarter and to be very specific when targeting … even within our donor base. … We do a lot of segmenting, pulling out special groups and targeting them specifically. And because we mail in pretty good quantity, we do get excellent pricing on our production.
We keep our mailings very simple—we don’t do labels, we don’t do greeting cards, we don’t offer any incentives. The simpler we keep it, the better. The more we explain how a donor’s money is being used, the better. [We typically mail] a one-page, front and back, [letter] with a reply coupon. The size of the envelope changes, but we keep it very simple to get the message out.
TG: You mention targeting; what are some of the segmenting tactics you use?
CC: It depends on the time of year. We raise the majority of our budget October through December. During that time, we may go a little further into our file because people have a tendency to give more during the holiday season. So we may go back three years then, when we only go back two years [for other appeals]. … Sometimes we segment based on if they gave, say, $25 or more; sometimes we’ll go back and if they’ve given anything, we’ll use their name; and sometimes we’ll mail only to a major donor segment. We’ll [also] mail a special message geographically.
TG: What kinds of direct mail testing do you do?
CC: We have, for the past couple years, in our fall prospecting, tested two different packages [with] two different messages. We’ll split our rental lists down the middle and send half package A and half package B.
Over the last two or three years, we’ve determined that one package always does better. So this year, instead of testing two packages, we tested [personalization]. We used that package and sent half the list a “Dear Community Friend” letter and the second half a message personalized with the donor’s name.
We’ve found so far that the personalized package is drawing not only a bigger percentage response, but also a larger average gift. And it didn’t add much [cost]. We mailed a little over 35,000 [packages] and the cost difference of the personalization for about 17,500 [packages] was pretty minimal. So we are going to more than gain that back. Enough so that we are going to personalize our entire fall prospecting mailing—about 500,000 [packages].
TG: What are some of the challenges you are facing in the mail right now? How are you working to overcome them?
CC: There’s a lot more mail out there trying to get donors’ attention. What we are facing right now [is] that it’s an election year … so there’s a lot of fundraising and campaign mail. We are working hard to target our messages, number one, and then target how they go out and when they go out. We change our calendar on election years, so that our mail does not get lost in all the political mail. We’ll mail a little later, so that it hits after the elections.
TG: What advice would you offer other mailers who are looking for maximum results off minimum expenditures?
CC: Know who their donors are … and how [they] were acquired. … They have to be very wise in their message—the more they can tell donors what good their contributions are doing instead of always just asking for money, the better. Donors like to hear how much their donations are helping an organization.
They have to have a plan and they have to be able to adjust that plan. Last year, we had [Hurricane] Katrina and [that changed] a lot of things. You can’t work without a plan, but make it flexible enough so that if you have to change it in a moment, you can.
[From the December 2006 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication to Target Marketing magazine. To learn more about Inside Direct Mail, visit http://www.insidedirectmail.com ]