American Cancer Society Rethinks Legacy Direct Mail Acquisition, Conversion Efforts
How direct mail measured up
If you're thinking, "The American Cancer Society must really dislike direct mail" — you are wrong, again! Its leaders are as committed today as they were in past years to direct marketing as a way to reach consumers with their critical messages. In fact, when interviewing executives across the marketing, fundraising and constituent experience areas, it is clear they view direct mail as a channel to be used in a truly integrated marketing and brand strategy that pushes across multiple channels.
In other words, what they've said to me is they are not giving up on direct mail as an important fundraising technique but are moving away from high-cost, single-channel programs that do not meet their requirements. As an example, in 2012 the Society piloted a fully integrated marketing campaign around its breast cancer special event, Making Strides Against Breast CancerTM. This campaign included DRTV, direct mail, online and social media. Guess what? The direct mail component of that campaign performed very well and had a positive impact overall on the program. The Society celebrates and welcomes those results and the learnings they bring.
MacMaster said the organization is "moving from a broad-based approach to a laser-focused, segmented approach." In the end, the Society has decided to stop acquisition and conversion mail — for now. Where it is taking a stand is that it's not interested in generating any new direct mail donors to the organization who do not further advance the mission through broad engagement. Some of the most important elements of this decision making process are ...
- As the American Cancer Society continues to look at its opportunities through the lens of "high cost - low yield," it's no surprise that direct mail has continued to put pressure on the organization's view of acceptable CPDR metrics. Over the years, the cost of doing direct mail has continued to rise, and while the Society has achieved good performance, the overall ratio of revenue to cost fell into a range that was not comfortable. This was especially true as it looks to drive an even greater percentage of revenues going to directly support mission vs. fundraising and management. Currently the Society allocates 72 percent of its revenues to program, and its leaders have committed to improving that percentage over the next several years. The organization has taken a progressive position with respect to good stewardship. Needless to say, therefore, any program with a high CPDR is under review.
- The direct mail donors are older than the donors who are targeted by its other fundraising programs — 67 percent of the direct mail donors are over 65 years of age — yet its primary community engagement programs (Relay For LifeTM and Making Strides Against Breast CancerTM) have 80 percent and 84 percent respectively under the age of 65. As a further point of comparison between direct mail donors and the primary target audience within the donor population of the Society, direct mail donors make up only 12 percent, with the vast majority of the balance being the community engagement donors.
- Direct mail donors have a tendency to stay within their single channel at the Society and not migrate to other programs it has prioritized. With the Society focused on integration and bridging its messaging across multiple channels, this is another area where direct mail donors stood out as being unique compared to the other constituents engaged.
- While the Society is committed to engaging the 65+ market, its leaders do not believe that direct mail is the only way these consumers will engage and support the mission. It is committed to monitoring and continuously testing this audience along the way because it is an important demographic group, but will focus on engaging them through other channels.
- While every organization worries about the frequency of donor touches, the Society did some work in this area and asked for constituent input about that very topic. Similar to what has been confirmed in other industry studies, the organization found that the frequency of direct mail is not necessarily the problem — the problem is the relevancy of the message and the lack of integration across all the branded communication channels.
This was stated already but is certainly a very important part of the discussion and decision: While direct mail may have been a long-time strategy for the Society, it is truly supplemental to the vast majority of the organization's revenue portfolio. Direct mail revenue overall is but a very small portion of the organization's total revenue — only 6 percent. The risk is there but also limited. It is also worth stating that the Society is not just "cutting" programs that don't meet a specific fundraising ratio — it is focused on continuing to innovate and build a broader, richer fundraising portfolio. Executives intend to focus on an optimized fundraising portfolio that drives even greater efficiency.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.