Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ugly Stepchild...?

     Anyone who knows me… knows I’m not a secretive person. But up until now I’ve only given random public glimpses into the donor communications programme that built Merchant Quay Ireland’s fundraising income from €200K a year to €2.2mil a year in 5 years(in a recession). Over the next few weeks I plan to put my results out in public. From Acquisition to Appeals and Monthly Giving. Some of it will be beautiful… some of it… not so much. 

     Let’s start with what is often the ugly stepchild of fundraising... the Donor Newsletter.

     Newsletters are a HUGE part of our fundraising programme. A great newsletter tells wonderful stories about how donors are changing the world. A great newsletter also raises funds… by thanking, not asking. Our newsletters average a 7:1 ROI (700% return on investment) and they drive donor loyalty and retention. As you can probably guess, our newsletter is no ugly stepchild… it’s our precious baby.

  My newsletters are written by the extraordinary Lisa Sargent. She also writes a great e-newsletter called The Loyalty Letter. Below is an excerpt.

Can You (Finally) Ditch Your Donor Newsletter?
Never-Before-Revealed Results Offer New Insights

     Sooner or later, someone in your organisation will ask if it's (finally) time to replace, cut back on, or eliminate entirely, your direct mail donor newsletter. What I reveal here suggests these are the wrong questions to ask altogether... 

     Since 2010 -- as part of a simple donor communications plan that MQI's Head of Fundraising Denisa Casement and I orchestrated – MQI has mailed donor-focused newsletters three times every year.

Until this year, 2014. 

This year, the newsletter increases to four times.

Seriously? Who in this day and age mails more? Why not just switch to email? (After all, it's "free.") 

MQI's direct mail donor newsletter response rates, never before revealed, show you why we upped the ante:

  • 2011, response rates of 6.35%, 6.59% and 8.00%.
  • 2012, response rates of 7.40%, 7.33%, and 12.08%.
  • 2013, response rates of 9.90%, 12.38%, and 12.73%.

Upward trajectory. From a newsletter. And a profitable one, at that.

For the record, this hasn't killed their donor retention rate. Au contraire. It now stands at sixty percent, double that of most U.S. nonprofits. (And no, their file is not dying. We do acquisition rollouts 2-3 times per year. The database has grown over 5X in as many years. Five times.) *see note

So if your direct mail donor newsletter is underperforming, the question is NOT: should we cut back on mailings? 

And it is NOT: Should we replace it with email only?

And it is DEFINITELY NOT: Do we ditch it altogether?

The real questions you should ask are: 
WHAT are we not doing... 
HOW do we do what's right... 
And HOW FAST can we transform our direct mail donor newsletter so it gets (much) better results?

Five years ago, MQI's team took a chance and invested in a relentlessly donor-centric fundraising and communications program.

So the question to ask isn't, Should you ditch your donor newsletter?

The question to ask is, What kind of success story do you want your nonprofit to tell in 5 years?

I'll be anxious to hear it.

    Lisa Sargent


     Lisa and I will be presenting a masterclass on How to Do Donor Communications for Relationships, Retention and Results at Fundraising Ireland’s National Fundraising Conference.

     We’ll cover all facets of our donor communications and reveal 5 years of detailed results from Donor Acquisition, Appeals and Newsletters.

     To read Lisa’s Loyalty Letter in its entirety, click here

You can follow both of us on Twitter 
@lisasargent2        @DenisaCasement 

*The donor base has grown from approx 500 to over 13,000. Lisa only had figures from our 2nd year on.

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