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Downes Murray International News

Don't you want money?

Picture the scene: The agency’s creative team has come up with a winning concept for your organisation’s latest appeal, the copywriter has written some powerful, motivating copy. Donations are flooding in. And you say . . .

‘It’s such a hassle having to bank all this money! Our secretary has to write out endless deposit forms and go to the bank every day.  We can’t possibly do this again or she’ll resign.’

No, this scene is not a figment of my imagination. Nor is it the first time I’ve heard a client expressing similar sentiments. Being an excitable creative type, I have to restrain myself from bursting out,

‘Don’t you want the money? What’s wrong with you?’ But on reflection, perhaps I see the problem.

This is a client who doesn’t understand direct mail fundraising. Perhaps in the past, the organisation has raised money through capital campaigns or corporate submissions. They’re used to receiving nice fat cheques for R100 000 from a charitable trust, institution or wealthy philanthropist.

The mail campaign may well raise the same R100 000, or even more – but the money comes from 4 000 individual donors. And the bulk of the donations arrives within the first 10 days.

Return envelopes come from the post office by the bagful. Inside the envelopes are personal cheques, postal orders, and even cash – all of which must be receipted and banked. And don’t forget the thank you letters which have to be sent out. Within 48 hours.

Then there’s the merry ring of the telephone as the complaints roll in. Many of us in the business believe you can judge the success of your appeal by the number of complaints it generates – the more the better! But CEOs of welfare organisations are notoriously sensitive about upsetting people. For some reason, 10 or 20 churlish people on the phone are more important in deciding future policy than the 4000 cheerful souls who were quite willing to part with their money!

The key to a successful direct mail campaign lies in knowing what to expect and making the necessary preparations. You need to choose one person to whom all complaints will be directed – someone with tact and perception, who will not say: ‘We don’t know anything about it. It wasn’t us that sent out the appeal – some computer company did it for us.’ (Yes, I’ve actually heard that one too!)

Make no mistake – a successful direct mail fundraising campaign involves a great deal of hard work. But the rewards far outweigh the inconvenience. There’s nothing like a flood of donations, eagerly and unstintingly given, to confirm your belief in the value of your organisation. And afterwards, you will be left with thousands of friends – people who are interested in your cause and who will be only too happy to hear from you again, with news of your projects and further needs.

Here’s another old favourite that is frequently trotted out by the CEO: ‘We’re sending out too many appeals. Our donors are going to get annoyed. We’ve decided to cancel one of our mailings this year.’

OK. Which one would you like to cancel? The Christmas appeal that traditionally nets R80 000? The Easter appeal that bring in another R50 000? How about the winter appeal (another R50 000) or the Mother’s Day campaign (R60 000)? The message is clear.

If your organisation can afford to do without the income generated by the appeal, cancel it by all means. In fact, you need to ask yourself why you are even considering raising funds you don’t need. But if you need the money, you have to ask for it – as often as necessary.

Another good reason for cancelling the direct mail appeal is that it costs too much. But how much is too much? R80 000? R120 000? R200 000? The point is, cost is not the issue. It’s the return on investment you should be looking at. If you can turn R200 000 into R600 000 in the space of a few months, you’re doing a whole lot better than you would stashing your money away in the bank. I’m not suggesting you should happily accept grossly inflated costs – but that you understand direct mail is not cheap.

Paper, envelopes and print cost money. So does postage. But costs are relative, and direct mail is still the most effective way of building a donor base, which will provide your organisation with a regular, dependable source of income for years to come. You need to take all this into consideration before you think of scrapping your direct mail appeal.

Sheila McCallum is a former creative director at DMI and now runs her own online fundraising consultancy.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 24, February 1993.

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