The end of a year is a great time for reflection and, of course, planning. Donor appeals and volunteer events are the heart of any nonprofit, but costs can quickly add up, leaving nonprofits struggling to stay within budget and spread their messages effectively. When planning for 2018 campaigns, incorporating direct mail is a must for many marketers – it’s tangible, has the potential for multiple touches, and offers an opportunity to share a story and create an emotional response. Print has also proven to be effective with audiences as young as millennials and has effectively lifted online activity by pointing readers to a landing page. However, print and postage costs can cause organizations to prematurely cut down distribution lists, potentially leaving their best contacts behind. This year, plan on casting a wider net by keeping these five money-saving tips in mind:
#1: Postage Optimization
One of the easiest and best ways nonprofits can save on postage costs involves combining, or “commingling,” mail. Don’t let the intimidating term fool you – the process is easy and can typically save a company thousands of dollars each year, depending on the mail volume.
When an organization commingles their mail, it simply means their mail is combined with other business’ mail, sorted by zip code, tagged and sleeved according to USPS regulations, and then directly deposited to the SCF (sectional center facility). By combining other mail headed to the same destination, postage costs and delivery times are reduced. When a nonprofit turns over their mail to a mailing service, they benefit even further by working with individuals who are well-versed in USPS regulations and updates. They can also easily track their mail’s progress with intelligent mail barcodes (IMBs).
The first step for determining if nonprofit mail pieces would benefit from commingling is to set up a meeting with a Presort Bureau who commingles marketing mail. A good commingler should review the in-home parameters, the volume of the mail and provide a clear rate up-front to help determine if commingling will provide worthwhile savings. Still confused? Read a few of the most common commingling FAQs, or see the process in action.
#2: Clean Up Data and Reduce Returned Mail
As a new year approaches, it is a great time to perform a task dreaded by many: data cleanup. No matter how carefully organizations enter data, errors always manage to slip through the cracks, and continue to multiply unless corrective measures are taken. A good data cleanup should identify incorrect fields, typographical and abbreviation errors, duplicates, email domain mistakes, address inconsistencies, and more.
One of the greatest benefits of a data cleanup is the money saved on returned mail. At least 8% of undeliverable mail occurs due to incorrect addresses, resulting in wasted postage that will continue draining budgets until the addresses are fixed. Performing a data cleanup will correct address misspellings or inconsistencies that may lead to unreturned mail. When combined with change-of-address services such as the NCOA (National Change of Address), businesses are able to put value back into their direct mail communications by reaching contacts at their new residences.
#3: Analyze Lists to Better Target the Right Donors and Volunteers
Whether it’s a donor appeal letter or a charity 5K, nonprofits can save on costs by ensuring they are sending to contacts most likely to participate. Instead of blindly sending to the same house list this year, consider running a few analyses that will determine who the best donors and volunteers are.
For nonprofits with multiple chapters, or for events that are location-specific, running profile reports can help narrow down a list to contacts in the best zip codes. A volunteer living an hour away, for example, may not be as interested in driving to events during harsh winter months. Is the volunteer still valuable for other communications? Of course – and profile reports will help determine when that next best opportunity will be.
Similar to most businesses today, nonprofits may have contacts in their database that have too many missing parts to be used for proper mail communications. These contacts may have been gathered through online landing pages where contact fields were limited or not required, or the fields have been skipped over by the volunteer or donor on paper forms. Data appends can help add value back into these contacts by using outside resources to gather the information that will fill in the blanks. In addition to finding valid address information for these contacts, data appends can also pull in additional demographics and household information that can aid in list segmentation and a more targeted donor or volunteer approach.
#4: Explore Print Options Prior to Design
Saving money on print projects starts in the planning phase. Before even drawing up ideas with the marketing team, nonprofits should make it a habit to discuss projects with their print vendor before any layouts or designs are sketched out. While educating yourself on the print process is always a great idea, consulting with your print vendor will ensure that nothing is being missed.
A print vendor will be able to make recommendations based on what you are trying to achieve, and will have a better idea of budget-friendly alternatives.
Keep these questions in mind when planning with your vendor to ensure maximum savings:
- How many pages does your print project truly need to be? Can you cut down copy, or change the paper size?
- Are you planning ahead of time with your vendor to avoid unexpected rush charges?
- Is the print piece you are planning too small or too large, resulting in extra finishing costs, special envelopes or mailing/postage issues?
- Will your artwork include stamping, embossing, or other added steps that may increase costs?
- Are you planning your design in multiples of four pages, to optimize page count?
- Are you embedding fonts into your print-ready PDF?
- Can your design run in less colors or the most cost-effective version of digital print? If selecting spot colors, can you design for a two-color process instead of a four-color process?
- Paper can make up 20-40% of a job’s cost. Are you choosing a budget-friendly paper stock?
#5: Combine Digital + Mail
One of the most important questions nonprofits can ask themselves prior to 2018 planning is, “What’s my audience?” Are contacts mostly composed of a house list, or are purchased or prospecting lists used as well? Depending on the answer, nonprofits may be able to use omnichannel marketing to their benefit in order to save on costs.
House lists are typically used year over year and contain previous donors or volunteers. These contacts have already invested their money or time into the organization, and are aware of its mission and background. House list contacts benefit most from direct mail because they are already familiar with the nonprofit and have previously been involved. Because they have invested in some way in the past, capturing their attention through letters and postcards should be easy to do. Typically, direct mail sent to a house file should generate a 5-15% response rate.
Prospecting and purchased lists, however, are a different story. These contacts require more touches in order to draw awareness and convert them into donors or volunteers, and using direct mail alone may prove ineffective and expensive. Nonprofits can expect a response rate of only .5-1.5% when using direct mail for prospecting lists, but response rates for email and social media are higher.
Nonprofits should view social media followers and engagement as a stepping stone to acquiring email contacts. Emails have proven to be effective for nonprofits as the years have gone by – from 2014 to 2015, they drove revenue up by 25%. While acquiring contacts organically on social media is possible, it often requires paid advertising to reach specific audiences.
The best social media sites for nonprofits are Facebook, with an average engagement of 5.4%, and Twitter, with an average engagement of 1.6%. Advertising on these sites may be a more cost-effective way to reach donors and volunteers and can be tailored to display to targeted demographics. Using nonprofit benchmarks can help keep digital advertising budgets realistic: according to a benchmark study by M+R, the top 25 nonprofits spent an average of $0.12 on digital ads for every $1 raised online.