Third of charity mail unopened

Helen Barrett

Charity direct mail is more likely to be put in the bin without being opened than nearly all other forms of direct mail, according to a survey by Nielsen Media Research for Marketing magazine.

The survey, based on a panel of 10,000 consumers, found that 30 per cent of charity direct mailings were binned unopened, compared with the average of 22 per cent of all direct mail sent in the year to June.

Of the 25 separate categories of direct mail, only that sent by gardening and agricultural companies fared worse, at 30.39 per cent.

Charity direct mail sent to potential - as opposed to existing - supporters was left unopened in 76 per cent of cases, a better performance than 11 other industries.

Charity mailings made up 23 per cent of all unopened direct mail, behind finance (24 per cent) and mail order (32 per cent).

Anthony Newman, head of direct marketing at Cancer Research UK, the charity that spends most on direct mail, said the sector should not be concerned.

"The open rate is irrelevant," he said. "There is no difference between opening and not responding and binning without opening. If direct mail wasn't effective, we wouldn't do it - and nor would anyone else."

Mike Barnes, director of marketing at the Direct Marketing Association, disagreed, urging charities to focus on improving mail pack creativity.

"Unopened rates matter because there is a cost attached," he said.

Clive Mollett, founder of consultancy 121 Fundraising, said consumers were turned off because charity mail packs looked the same. "Charities have a cautious nature, so when someone thinks of a good idea, everyone else copies it," he said. "Recipients can identify what a direct mail pack is about without opening it."

The survey found that consumers were more likely to bin direct mail with errors in names and addresses. According to the research, 5 per cent of charity mail had a mistake in the addressee's name, second only to gardening and agricultural firms (6.5 per cent).

Only 0.96 per cent of charity direct mailings had a mistake in the address - pharmaceutical companies were the worst offenders, at 1.63 per cent.


- Charities spent more than £213m on five billion items of direct mail in the year to June 2006

- 150 million items of charity direct mail were binned unopened, at a cost of £64m

- On average, 5 per cent of direct mailings contain name errors

- Direct mail accounts for more than 70 per cent of charities' marketing budgets.

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