Alex Blyth

Pippa Carte, client services manager at Target Direct, says that 13 different creative treatments were used in all, with new ideas piloted alongside tried-and-tested methods in order to avoid relying on just established techniques.

"Younger and more socially aware audiences were targeted with newly developed, grittier themes highlighting real-life scenarios such as drug abuse and homelessness," she says.

The campaign raised in excess of £14.5 million with donors accounting for £9 million of the total.

Potential donors can be put off by a barrage of direct mail. Alex Blyth finds out how charities can make sure their mailings target the right people and generate a high response rate.

Use of direct mail in the UK has more than doubled since 1990 and the not-for-profit sector has accounted for a high proportion of this increased uptake. The sector has increasingly recognised the potential for considerable benefits at relatively low costs.

Direct mail is almost always less expensive than TV or press advertising, and is uniquely effective at getting a message through to a specified individual and prompting them to take action. However, direct mail becomes junk mail if the recipient perceives it as irrelevant to them. Sending junk mail to potential and existing donors is expensive for charities, not only because of the cost of production and mailing but also because they potentially risk harming their relationship.

While there is widespread scepticism about the claims of how much charity direct mail is incorrectly targeted, not least because the majority of those claims tend to be made by data cleaning companies, there is undeniably room for improvement. The importance of effective creative work means that even those with perfect data cannot afford to be complacent. Indeed, the ever-growing competition for consumer donations means that every charity must succeed in making the most of this vital communication and fundraising tool.

Bryan Miller, director of client services and planning at direct marketing agency Whitewater, argues that ensuring the data is clean is the first step in a successful direct mail campaign.

"There's been a lot of discussion recently about how a lack of basic data hygiene results in a whole lot of waste and yet more negative feedback as mailers are sent to deceased people, people who have moved away, or those who have expressly asked not to be mailed," he says.

He thinks that with databases becoming ever more complex, the housing market accelerating rapidly, and donors becoming less willing to provide information on address changes, keeping databases up to date is becoming an ever-greater struggle for in-house marketing teams. However, he adds, misdirected mail can be significantly minimised by either buying in external lists or implementing some fairly basic data housekeeping rules, such as comparing supporter information held by the charity against that stored by a third party.

"I do think that as people increasingly realise the importance of doing this and just how easy it is, they are making fewer mistakes on their lists. It's just as well, since there really is little excuse for it," he says. Among the key solutions on the market are Mortascreen, the Gone Away Suppression File, the Royal Mail National Change of Address file, and, of course, the Mailing Preference Service.

Data strategies are particularly important when it comes to profiling potential donors. Paul Farthing, managing director of direct marketing agency Target Direct, explains how his company helps clients such as The Salvation Army and The National Trust get the maximum value from their donor mailings. "The deciding factor in whether or not something is seen as junk mail is not personalisation, but emotional resonance," he says.

"Stopping junk mail is about getting your message to those who are interested and striking the right chord with the cause you're campaigning for. In the first instance this means investing in research and profiling to really understand your current and potential audiences, and to identify the right offer for each segment."

He says that Target Direct has invested in Grey Rainbow, an ongoing research programme among the over-50s, and results here are already indicating issues of financial insecurity in this audience. Endowment shortfalls have left some with underperforming pensions, and concerns of this type will clearly influence their attitudes towards charitable giving.

Charlotte Thrower, head of fundraising at the National Asthma Campaign, agrees that effective segmentation is vital. "We always target very specifically to ensure that we're only mailing audiences that have a strong affinity with our cause. We do this both before and after a campaign so that we build an ongoing view of what our supporters want."

Through using this process, the charity found that its supporters were keen to fund an increased amount of research into asthma. "A mailing on this issue beat its target by 35 per cent, a fantastic result which was primarily attributable to understanding our audience," says Thrower.

An increasing number of charities are hiring list-building experts to help them with this profiling stage. Gerry Scott, managing director of one such expert, HLB, describes how they operate. "More and more charities are experimenting with mass-mailing techniques such as raffles to raise funds," she says. "As competition becomes more intense, so targeting needs to be extremely tight in order to grow response levels."

HLB helps its clients build the right list by combining their data on existing donors with the information the company has on what group tends to go for what type of offer, and then applying that profile to select the most appropriate rented lists. "This sort of intensive data crunching can help charities to improve the return on their investment," says Scott.

Profiling techniques can also be used by charities to compile a list of people who are most likely to respond to a specific offer. However, the charity will still need the right creative work to connect those "warm" prospects to the campaign message.

Annette Kelly, senior partner at direct marketing agency the John Watson Partnership, says there are some general rules to follow. "People who are low-value donors are more likely to respond to an emotional pull, such as an appealing photo of a puppy," she advises.

"While people who are passionate and committed donors to a specific charity need a more reasoned approach, such as a request for £25 to enable Amnesty International to send a diplomatic telegram on behalf of a political prisoner.

"You must adapt the tone and creative to the target profile."

While mailings to prospective donors may be similar in tone to those of consumer goods companies, Jessica Mannix, supporter strategy manager at NSPCC, is adamant that mailers to existing givers require a different approach. "Our supporters don't respond to traditional marketing encouraging them to act," she says. "Therefore we don't use them."

The charity makes sure that its communications do not look like mass mailings. It only uses plain envelopes, has eliminated the use of red in major headings, and letters are written in a simple, one-to-one style.

"Our donors have the opportunity to receive fewer mailings but not many take this up," says Mannix. "They don't see what we send them as fundraising or marketing but as important information about the work of the charity."

However good the list-building and the creative execution, many donors remain fundamentally opposed to the idea of their donations being spent on direct mail. They believe that fundraising departments are simply consuming resources that could otherwise be spent on the cause itself. Anyone who works in charity knows that this is rarely the case and that direct mail plays a crucial part in generating money for all areas of the organisation.

But Miller argues that charities should be more proactive in putting this argument to donors. "Assuming that you're taking your responsibilities as a user of direct mail seriously, then you will benefit from being open and honest about this with your donors," he says. "Articles in newsletters might be used to remind supporters just how essential mail appeals are to your income and to highlight steps that you've taken to make them as cost-effective as possible. In this way you have an opportunity to change negative perceptions about mail to some degree."

Anthony Newman, head of direct marketing at Cancer Research UK, says it pays to be open with donors. "We recently targeted the under 35 age group and discovered that they were much more likely to donate if we were honest with them about our reasons for mailing. This age group are often cash rich, time poor and respond well to this approach."

However, perhaps most important is to not annoy potential donors with direct mail. "The greatest danger is the temptation to over-use the technique," says Derek Holder, chief executive of the Institute of Direct Marketing. "Bear in mind that direct mail should excite people into action, not bore them into indifference."


When Guide Dogs for the Blind needed assistance with its list preparation for a raffle campaign last Christmas, it turned to direct marketing agency HLB for help.

The charity hoped to increase sales and associated donations from the campaign and expand the volume of available mailing lists for future raffles.

Gerry Scott, managing director of HLB, says it began by analysing past list usage, which highlighted lists that had been previously successful.

"This only provided us with 50 per cent of the required number so we had to build 50 per cent of the campaign from entirely new lists," she says.

It identified likely prospects using a matrix which considered how well the prospects fitted the Guide Dogs' donor profile, their propensity to take part in raffles, and their potential roll-out volume. "Using this matrix significantly reduced the risk of waste normally associated with mailing new lists," says Scott.

The campaign was an unqualified success. Eighteen out of 20 lists that were tested proved successful, total ticket sales from cold lists exceeded targets by 146 per cent and the number of people buying tickets exceeded forecasts by 165 per cent. With additional donations at a level not previously experienced by Guide Dogs, the overall income from the Christmas raffle campaign increased by 18 per cent.

The campaign also provided the charity with enough data to expand its raffle considerably in the future.


Last Christmas, The Salvation Army set itself a target of raising £12.6 million from both prospective and existing donors.

"The campaign was the result of three years of creative testing and development," says Philomena Robson, direct marketing and database manager.

The charity realised that, although it had three good packs, it was reaching donor 'wear out'. In order to overcome this, it commissioned its director marketing partners to come up with a range of creative executions in line with several new messages.

"Many campaigns fail because the client just expects the agency to go away and come up with successful creative work," says Robson. "But we worked closely with our agencies on the project."

Direct marketing specialist Target Direct was used to develop the creative, while freelancer John Rawson was brought on board to handle the copywriting and strategic planning consultancy Calibre was given the overall responsibility for the campaign's delivery.

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