Mark Dobson: A new principle in direct mail for fundraisers: Lean DM

After the recent fundraising scandals, a new breed of direct marketing needs to come to the fore

Mark Dobson
Mark Dobson

It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that over the last few months charity fundraising has gone through the wringer.

Sparked by the tragic suicide of Britain’s oldest poppy seller, Olive Cooke, who was reportedly extremely distressed by the amount of charity direct mail she received, the national media and in particular, The Daily Mail, called for a review of the way the third sector promotes itself. And it has succeeded with both the ICO and government launching investigations into the issue.

Already, recommendations and changes are coming into effect, such as the proposed closure of the self-regulatory Fundraising Standards Board. However, with Christmas just around the corner, traditionally the most lucrative time of year for charity fundraisers, what impact will this have on fundraising activity?

Traditionally charities do well out of consumers’ generosity during the season of good will but even the bravest fundraiser is going to be nervous about conducting an aggressive Christmas campaign. Moreover, the options are pretty limited.

Telemarketing is a total no-no given the continued investigations into shady outsourced operators that coerce donations from vulnerable consumers and house calls are now outlawed to anyone displaying a no cold calling sticker.

Digital marketing is also on the danger list – not because it has been misused, but because new research proves that it is ineffective. This leaves a limited arsenal of channels for fundraisers. Whilst direct mail currently remains unregulated there are serious concerns over the levels of charity mail landing on doormats.

Consequently, a new breed of direct marketing needs to come to the fore. Called Lean DM, it is not only cost efficient, but also incredibly effective, meaning ROI is much higher than traditional DM campaigns. It also helps regulate the number of pieces of direct mail donors are receiving since the overarching idea is to only mail people that are happy and suitable to receive communications.

Anyone who is ‘vulnerable’ identified through profiling the data should be removed from a fundraising donor base as a matter of course. Lean DM differs from traditional direct mail as data processing and sourcing underpins the whole concept. Ignorantia juris non excusat – ignorance is no excuse.

The sourcing of data through lists is more thorough, data is not accepted at face value and is audited for provenance and the processing of data is more granular than ordinary DM. Normally a list or database will be screened against the Mailing preference Service (MPS) and run against Royal Mail’s Postal Address File (PAF) but this is no longer enough. Each and every record in Lean DM is scrutinised using four key principles:

4Ss of Lean DM

1. Small

Small is beautiful in this case. Don’t add volume to your campaign for the sake of it. It is better to get a higher response rate by targeting people who are truly responsive than to scattergun those that put it straight in the recycling. Analyse the name data – if you don’t have a whole or valid name don’t mail them. Use a Lean DM based software solution to make work flows more efficient and cost effective

2. Source

Know where your data has come from. Data sourcing has been one of the major criticisms of fundraising this summer so take responsibility for your donor bases and know the origins of each record. If it is suspect then delete it, no matter how tempting it is to keep it. Profile the ideal recipient and only add people to the mailing list that match that profile 100 per cent – delete anyone that half fits it or might fit it.

3. Segment

Run smaller campaigns by segmenting the donor base into bite size chunks and tailor the creative or copy to this distinct group. This way it makes it more personal and response rates go up.

4. Suppress

Data hygiene is key. Mailing people that are no longer there is a waste of money, mailing them twice is a waste of money, and of course, mailing people that have passed away is not only a waste of money but entirely inappropriate and extremely damaging to the brand

High quality data processing lies at the heart of Lean DM. The old database marketing adage, rubbish in, rubbish out is absolutely true. However, in today’s hostile environment not adhering to the 4Ss could see you banned from marketing rather than simply being viewed as a bit of an annoyance. Lean DM provides a framework for fundraisers to reduce unwanted mail but increase ROI of campaigns. A win-win for everyone.

Mark Dobson is Client Services Director, The Software Bureau

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