It’s sad but true — direct-mail acquisition usually nets negative dollars. But when organic growth, online efforts and requests for referrals aren’t producing enough new donors to propel your nonprofit to the level you want to be (let alone replace donors lost to attrition), direct-mail acquisition may be critical for long-term survival.
Newly acquired donors should “pay back” your initial loss and future investment in a matter of months. But since nonprofit boards don’t like losing money (even short term), stacking the acquisition deck in your favor is essential.
Not to oversimplify, but your basic costs for a direct-mail acquisition package are copywriting, design, printing and mailing, postage, and the rental of a name. Mailing to deeply lapsed donors and non-giving prospects is a great way to acquire new names, but you eventually need to look outside your database if your goal is significant growth.
These days, there are a lot of restrictions on renting names. Some nonprofits don’t do it, no matter what. Others only exchange — “you can use our list if we can use yours.” Still other nonprofits rent frequently and have a constant source of income from using their lists in this fashion.
You most likely contact a list broker to acquire names — a company that may manage some lists (being the exclusive source for renting those names), but also has solid knowledge of the universe of lists available from other list brokers, how they are performing, who else is renting them, if they are showing signs of decline in terms of productivity, etc. Working with a list broker can be the best “cure” for a lackluster direct-mail acquisition program if you choose the right partner for your project.
Information about YOU is key
Your list broker is not psychic; give him or her as much information as you can about your letter copy, your offer, your mission, your acquisition history, your current donors and your goals for the mailing.