A Multi-Level Approach to Lists
For the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy “think tank” based in Washington, D.C., a typical budget is to mail 4 million to 5 million pieces. “We have a rough budget, but how much we mail depends on the year. For this year, plans are to mail 6 million pieces, looking to build on the opportunities created by the economy and the election year,” says Carsten Walter, director of membership programs for the organization.
In mailing, Heritage follows a multi-level approach, the key determinant of which is the initial gift size, Walter says. “The higher initial gift size is obviously more desirable,” he explains. “We look to build lifetime value, so with larger initial gifts we can work to establish a longer-term relationship.”
In looking at lists, the flip side of that higher gift size, of course, is volume. “Volume is important to watch, as well,” Walter says. Sometimes, to get higher gifts, you might give up some volume on a mailing. But it has to be a careful balancing act. Give up too much volume, and your new donors will slip to too low a level.
To address these concerns, Heritage uses a number of creative strategies. For example, Walter says, “When we prospect, we literally measure in bottom line net income. We don’t dismiss the low-dollar donor, but that might be cycled into a package that’s less expensive. With some annual donors, we try to convert to an EFT [electronic funds transfer] program where they become monthly donors.”
Constant list testing requires a balance of, “about one-third core lists, one-third just on the fringe of our universe and one-third testing outside the box to try to break into new lists,” Walter says. “We’re always trying outside-of-the-box lists, and occasionally we’ll get a hit off of one.” But when looking for prospects, it’s the tried-and-true lists of donors to like-minded organizations and subscribers to like-minded magazines that are Heritage Foundation’s mainstays.