Straight Talk: Go With Your Gut
Online fundraising may be a concept on the mind of most development professionals right now, but don't discount the essential role that direct mail plays, and will continue to play, for nonprofits, contends Susan Madden, director of development for New York Restoration Project (NYRP). Founded a decade ago by entertainer Bette Midler, NYRP seeks to clean and restore community gardens, open spaces, and parks in New York City's underserved neighborhoods. For Madden and her team, direct mail is key to accomplishing these goals, helping them raise funds, grow their donor programs and keep current donors involved with, and aware of, NYRP's progress.
Madden now pauses to reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities her organization faces, and the importance of thinking big, following your instincts and letting your passion shine through.
TG: What role does direct mail play in your fundraising efforts?
SM: We raise $4 million a year and direct mail [accounts for] about $600,000 of that. I would say it's an
integral part, not only for providing that amount for general operations, but also as a way to grow our patrons and planned giving programs. Many gifts—for example, those that come in through family foundations—start with direct mail. We had one foundation that gave us a $5,000 gift through a direct mail campaign, and we were able to parlay that into a $250,000 gift. It also shows institutional donors we have a broad base of public support, and that's very important.
TG: What are some of your direct mail challenges?
SM: The volume of mail people are receiving is a challenge—you just hope that they will open the envelope. We are a complicated organization because we do environmental education, park restoration, and we have community gardens. We can be considered an environmental organization, a community development organization, an educational organization and a cleanup group. So we function at many different levels, and sometimes that is hard to convey thoroughly in a short direct mail piece. It can be challenging to communicate all of what you do and [then] decide what to emphasize.