Direct Mail Fundraising During the Great Paper Shortage
Direct mail is a vital component to fundraising. However, direct mail does require paper. This year, paper has been a big problem. As we have now passed the midway point in 2022, we continue to face paper shortages that will last well into 2023. So, what is a fundraiser to do to get paper for their direct mail appeals for fall and end of year? Since many nonprofits mail letters in envelopes with either a business reply envelope (BRE) or courtesy reply envelope (CRE), you not only need to secure paper for the letter but also for both envelopes.
So, what is causing the paper problem? There are many factors that have brought us to this point, such as less capacity, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions. All of these things combined with higher demand after the COVID-19 pandemic have gotten us where we are today.
You need to talk to your printers now to get ready for the big fall and end-of-year push. Those who do not plan will find that they are unable to get paper or envelopes in time to mail. Remember there is also an election this year, so there will be an even greater rush for paper. Planning now will make your life easier for the fall and help you to make your mail dates.
There are a few things you can do to make the situation better.
1. Talk to your vendors now. Get your printer and mail service provider involved early in the process. They can help with paper selection and design format based on available paper — this will prevent last minute redesigns.
2. Be open-minded. The paper you prefer may not be available, flexibility is a must. Your printer will be able to tell you what stock it can get. The type of paper on which you print will not change the donation amount your donors intend to give.
3. Look at different format options. If you have always used a No. 10 but your printer has 6x9” envelopes available, give them a try. Of course, you want to stay in the letter-size postage category to pay the lowest postage. There are size alternatives that may be available to you with the max size of a 6x11” envelope.
4. Plan earlier than usual. Build in longer timelines for printing to make sure that you can meet your mail dates. Envelope converting can take as long as 10 weeks, plan accordingly. Stay in communication with your printer so you both know what to expect and when. Figure out a general quantity you plan to send and buy the paper and envelopes now, so you’ll have them available when you need them.
5. Data is king. Keep your data current to reduce mailing quantities and assure you’re targeting those most likely to contribute. This improves your ROI and saves resources.
Direct mail is a key driver of donations so you can’t stop mailing without giving up some donations. That is never an option. Consider adding additional marketing channels to your mix this year. Older donors are on Facebook so send them ads there. IP display ads should also be considered. Most nonprofits are doing email marketing already so consider adding a blast both before the mail is delivered and after. When direct mail is coordinated with digital marketing you increase your response rates between 24% and 40%.
If you have never tried Informed Delivery, you may want to consider that now. What is Informed Delivery? It is an email service from the post office that people can sign up for to get images of the mail pieces that will be delivered to their mailbox each day. You can add to the image with a ride-along ad that recipients can click to go directly to your donation page.
Yes, this fundraising year is a challenge, but you can be ready for it. Don’t let the paper situation scare you. As long as you work with your printer, you can get your mail out on time. Keep in mind that different areas of the country will have different stock issues. So, it is important to know which printer is going to print your materials now. You don’t have to have exact counts or art ready; you just need approximate numbers to snag paper and envelopes ahead of time.
You might also want to consider sending to fewer donors on your list. Usually, you would mail to anyone who has given in the past five years, but you might want to change that to the last three years. This will lower your mail count, but realistically if they have not given in five years, they probably are not going to give this year. Being more strategic with your list targeting will be more effective at driving up your response rates.
If push comes to shove and you are considering dropping your lift note, I’d advise against it. That lift-note story is important. What you could do is use different stock or change the size. You want to make sure that you are making that heartfelt connection with donors. The deeper the connection the better the donation.
Don’t let the paper shortage stress you out during the giving season this year. Just prepare early and everything will be OK. Direct mail is still the workhorse of fundraising and that will not change this year. You will want to work even more closely with not just your printer, but everyone on your team. Make sure to tell compelling stories. It is the stories that get you the donations.
Finally, make sure that your list is clean. This means updating it for moves, as well as removing people who have died. Old and outdated lists cost you money. Your mail service provider has many options for cleaning up your lists. Make sure you address that. Sending to the wrong people can cause ill will and ultimately cost you donations. Are you ready to get started?
Summer Gould is Account Executive at Neyenesch Printers. Summer has spent her 31 year career helping clients achieve better marketing results. She has served as a panel speaker for the Association of Marketing Service Providers conferences. She is active in several industry organizations and she is a board member for Printing Industries Association San Diego, as well as the industry chair for San Diego Postal Customer Council. You can find her at Neyenesch’s website: neyenesch.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @sumgould.