Anna Taylor: Time to limit your use of snail mail

New prices for second-class stamps could force the sector to consider alternatives to postal appeals, says our columnist

Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor

Large increases in the cost of a second-class stamp are expected soon, in the wake of a consultation by Ofcom, the postal regulator, on raising the price cap to between 45p and 55p, compared with the current figure of 36p.

When the verdict is announced, there will undoubtedly be uproar from the charity sector. But maybe it will force us to be more creative and innovative and to consider alternatives to postal appeals, which are, after all, a fundraising method with a relatively low return on investment.

Online benefits

Moving communication online has environmental benefits, saving paper, printing and the transportation of charity appeals. From the point of view of a small charity, it spares staff being drawn into hours of envelope stuffing when they could be doing something more useful. Email also presents opportunities for improved interaction with donors.

However, completely abandoning postal appeals in favour of digital channels is unlikely to be the answer. The best response rates are being achieved by charities that are combining direct mail with email.

This 'multi-channel-marketing', as the jargon has it, is slightly more expensive than postal communication by itself, but may well be worthwhile with your mid to higher-level supporters. Potential major individual donors should be treated separately, of course.

For some segments of your database - people under 40, for example, or those you know to have donated a couple of times online in the past - it might make sense to test the impact of phasing out the direct mail element completely, or at least cutting back to sending only one or two snail mail appeals a year. Income will probably go down a bit, even for these online giving-friendly groups, but it might be more cost-effective because profits might go up.

It's not only the postage costs you will save, but also the expense involved in printing and stuffing envelopes - and don't forget that printing out reams of letters, matching them with other inserts and popping them in envelopes is stopping you from getting down to writing to trusts, companies or major donors.

Take action

For sending news updates, asking for volunteers or sending thank-you letters, it might make sense to use online channels for a broader mix of people - perhaps for everyone who has shared an email address with you.

While postal appeals can still benefit some charities, there is no denying the increasing value of online communication. If you are not capturing people's email addresses, you are depriving yourself of a valuable fundraising resource that is likely to become more important over the coming years. The planned postal price rises mean it's time to take action.

Anna Taylor is a freelance fundraiser, writer and researcher, and a former UK director of Child In Need India

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