Direct mail fundraising has fallen out of favour with charities since the fundraising scandals of 2015, the interim deputy director of fundraising at Oxfam has said.
Nick Pride told delegates at an event on direct mail hosted by Royal Mail and the marketing company WPN Chameleon in London yesterday that there had been a "disappearance of direct mail" from the sector’s arsenal of donor recruitment tools since 2015.
He said he was a "long-term fan and advocate of direct mail", calling it the "exemplar for how to get the right message to the right people at the right time".
He said: "It’s not long ago that direct mail would have been at the heart of any strategy to recruit new supporters.
"Many of us would then be reporting a great return on investment and fantastic lifetime value for supporters we had found this way, but in 2015 we had to accept as a sector that we had somehow managed to industrialise our use of the medium, to lose sight of our values and to neglect the interest of our supporters – we had somehow contrived permission to acquire new supporters through direct mail."
The fundraising scandals of 2015 centred on the case of Olive Cooke, the 92-year-old poppy seller who committed suicide after receiving a high volume of charity fundraising requests.
Her death attracted widespread media attention after several national newspapers linked her suicide with being "bombarded" with charity mail.
Her family said at the time that the charities were not to blame for her death, but the outcry sparked a chain of events that led to the establishment of the Fundraising Regulator.
The coroner ruled at the inquest into her death that she had committed suicide after suffering from depression, insomnia and breast cancer, with no mention of charity fundraising.
Pride said yesterday that the GDPR had forced the sector to "think very hard" about how it stayed connected to existing supporters and direct mail offered the opportunity to build trust with existing supporters and start relationships with new ones, and to do it at scale.
But he said that if the sector was going to "relearn the venerable craft" of direct mail, it needed to maintain a "direct line of sight between our supporters and the people we help, the golden thread that keeps our message true to our vision and values".
He said: "We let go of that thread before and it did not go well."
But he added that, done well, direct mail offered an opportunity to build trust in a charity, start relationships with new supporters and rekindle them with supporters who had drifted away.