Focus On: Personalization: Dear Mr. Sample
Not so long ago, direct mail personalization meant slapping a donor’s name and address on a form letter and calling it a day. It was a statement: The more personal information an organization presented in a solicitation to Mr. Sample, the greater his significance. How times have changed — sort of.
With the advent of database-management software and digital printing technology, direct mail personalization has emerged as a sophisticated marketing practice, both easy and seemingly cost effective to employ. (By now, nearly every organization has sent its contributors a sheet of colorful address labels.) Yet many nonprofits still are not speaking to their constituents with personal relevance.
“Personalization means being able to talk to [donors] in a way that recognizes the support they have given to your organization,” says Michael D. Nelson, president of Minneapolis-based Digital Marketing, a full-service provider of data-driven marketing and customer communications. “When you talk to people rather than at them, you build more loyalty and a stronger relationship over time, and you will also find higher response rates for the long term.”
Despite his optimism, Nelson is quick to point out the fundamental barrier that nonprofit organizations face when personalizing direct mail: data.
Arguably the most vital aspect of direct marketing, data provides a sound guideline for upgrading a donor’s charitable giving.
“The first problem that most nonprofits have is not having a data structure that allows both consolidation of data and easy cross-reference to data,” Nelson asserts, citing a list of common quagmires such as lack of data integrity, multiple people within an organization not sharing data on the same donor, and data housed in different locations.
To him, the issue is simple. When nonprofits lament about data-hygiene and personalization costs, Nelson invariably booms: “Stop mailing to everyone on your file. Pick your mark and spend an additional dollar on them. Make them feel like you know who they are and what their contribution has been. Make them stakeholders.”