Direct mail is in the news again this week, with Third Sector reporting that a fundraiser has quit the profession after being reduced to tears by the number of complaints that a cold mailing produced.
Now, my first instinct was that this was a bit of an over reaction and the person in question might be over sensitive and in the wrong job to begin with. However, I've thought of some of the distressed calls and letters I've received in response to direct mail over the years and wondered whether the money direct mail raises justifies the upset that it does cause to some people.
My conclusion is yes it does, but we need to continue to evolve our fundraising methods to reduce this to a minimum, whilst increasing the overall joy of giving.
Cancer Research UK seem to be having similar issues and I was surprised to read the first page of their latest door drop. It talks candidly about how fewer people are responding to their appeals and explains why they send the letter. Here is the first page of the letter (let me know if you'd like a copy of the full appeal):
Then, over at Fundraising magazine (registration required) there is a debate about the use of enclosures in direct mail, with Stephen Pidgeon (Chair of the Institute of Fundraising standards committee) giving the following warning:
"Last year, Fundraising Standards Board received 26,349 complaints from the general public about fundraising. 19,068 of them (practically 75%) were about direct mail. That's a staggering figure, and probably the tip of the iceberg. It frightens me rigid and it should frighten you. If charities lose the right to mail widely and without constraints, the loss in income will be catastrophic.
"And don't kid yourself it's not on the cards. A few months ago, I sat in the office of the then minister, Kevin Brennan, a bright and well briefed guy. He simply said he was being plagued by complaints about junk mail from charities. He had called us in to hear what was being done about it. This kind of action from government is new."
Stephen goes on to warn that constraints on the use of direct mail are a distinct possibility if we don't regulate ourself.
The final piece of bad news came from the U.S. where the Agitator reported on a 'slump' in direct mail use.
So should we all be worried and be abandoning direct mail?
Not quite yet...
As the Agitator goes on to say in a follow up article:
"Sadly, at a time when many nonprofits are clearly hurting and facing still further declines, I’m seeing many of the same, old, tired appeals, messages and techniques in my mailbox, clearly driven by plans that might as well be dated 1991 instead of 2010."
They then give some excellent thoughts and ideas on what needs to change and how you can do it.
I'll leave the final word to Jeff Brooks, who concludes in his article "Yet again is direct mail dead?", that:
"Fundraising is about connecting with people. You find the medium that connects you to the right people. If it works, it's not dead. Asking if direct mail is dead without first knowing a lot of other information is getting it backwards."