Help Stamp Out Junk Mail
Happy Junk Mail Awareness Week! It’s still on the horizon — Oct. 1 to 7 — but it’s never too early to start planning your festivities!
Unfortunately, Junk Mail Awareness Week isn’t intended as a celebration of the ways direct mail creates jobs, fuels economic growth and funds good deeds.
It focuses on the dark side, which, I have to admit, is considerable. According to 41pounds.org, the average U.S. adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail a year. It adds up to 4 million tons of mail, made from the pulp of more than 100 million trees. And 44 percent goes to the landfill unopened!
Nevertheless, direct mail is the lifeblood of many nonprofits. That’s why I hope those of us who rely on it will take this special week to become non-junk organizations.
But what is junk mail?
Junk mail is any mail that’s unwanted, out of context and irrelevant.
The thing that makes it junk is the lack of a meaningful connection to the recipient’s life. The most usurious credit card offer might not be junk mail for you, because it’s exactly what you want and need.
You see, junk mail doesn’t become junk until it hits a recipient’s mailbox. I can just see them: 62 billion pieces leaving the comfort of the lettershops where they were born, their inky, windowed little faces shining with optimism and dreams of greatness. They can hardly wait to be opened, read with relish and promptly responded to.
But for too many of them, something goes awry. When they reach their intended mailboxes, they’re tossed aside unopened or cursed before being torn in half.
To understand what makes direct mail transubstantiate into unwanted junk mail, let’s look at a typical donor we’ll call Mrs. Sample.
Mrs. Sample gets a lot of mail from nonprofit organizations. She doesn’t know why. She doesn’t want it. She thinks it’s a huge waste. But not all of it.
Some of it, she’s glad to see. She opens it. Reads it. Enjoys it. Why? Because she knows why those organizations write to her. She has a relationship with them — she’s a partner, not a mass-audience prospect.
What’s the difference?
Here are some of the things that separate the non-junk organizations from the junk mailers:
* NJOs go out of their way to be relevant. It’s about the donor and how she can change the world. Junk tends to focus on the organization that sent it — how powerful, effective and just-plain-cool it is. There’s little reason for a donor to care about that.
* NJOs explain something real the donor can do. Junk mailers probably do some exciting things that would light Mrs. Sample’s fire, but since they only want to raise unrestricted funds, they can’t let her join the fun.
* NJOs invite the donor in on something unique and exciting. Junk mail, however, has a “me-too” quality, with only vague philosophical and branding differences between organizations that work in related sectors.
* NJOs strive to keep data clean. Junk senders’ offerings are plagued with errors, misspellings, duplicate records and other slop. If you’re making these kinds of mistakes, you might as well slap a big sticker on your letters that says, “WARNING: JUNK MAIL!”
* NJOs pay attention to the data and have a good idea who’s likely to respond to any given mailing. Recency, amount, seasonality, topic, style — all these things help predict likelihood of response. The junk mailers — well, they just dump mail on everyone and hope for the best.
* NJOs give donors control. If a donor wants less mail, non-junk organizations send less mail. And NJOs don’t wait for donors to get ticked off to take the initiative; they actively give them choices — e.g., what media they prefer and what topics they care about.
* NJOs close the loop. They come back and tell Mrs. Sample what happened with the money she sent. They shower her with thank-you letters, newsletters and special reports that remind her how important she is. The quickest way to make yourself into a junk mailer is to give donors the impression their gifts fall into a huge black hole and make no difference.
This Junk Mail Awareness Week, start putting some of these anti-junk-mail practices to work. That’ll make everyone happier.
Jeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle/Domain.