Holiday Catalogs In Print-Gasp

December 1, 2010       Kate Rogers      

Donors who receive a Heifer International 2010 Holiday Edition gift catalog in the mail this year might notice some changes. The gifts inside are still targeted to help developing countries, but the catalog itself has shrunk.

It uses 24 percent less paper than it has in the past, making it among the greenest of holiday gift catalogs being mailed this year. It is just one of many changes for various charities’ holiday catalog appeals. Both print and online offerings have been updated for the 2010 holiday season.

Christy Moore, director of direct marketing for the Little Rock, Ark.-based Heifer, said the greener catalog is the result of several years of testing combined with Heifer’s commitment to reduce its environmental footprint. The reduced size saved money on mailing, which means it is better purposing donor resources, Moore said.

Heifer teamed with the World Resources Institute and paper manufacturer NewPage for Project POTICO. The collaboration ensures that the paper used in Heifer’s catalog is supported by carbon offsets and a reforestation project in Indonesia.

Millions of catalogs are mailed to donors yearly, which often prompt donors to give either online, by mail or by phone, Moore said. She declined to disclose the number of catalogs or donors Heifer has for its yearly holiday campaign, citing it as proprietary information.

“It’s interesting, our mail responses are not declining, but more people are making the transition to online,” Moore said. “When they get the catalog in the mail, that becomes their driver.”

Nearly 54 percent of holiday campaign donations are made online, she added. The catalog is the organization’s largest fundraising effort and acquisition campaign for the year.

The catalog is shrinking in size and the campaign is being adapted to changing times. Moore said there is an electronic version of the catalog available for smartphones this year, and gifts can also be made online in the gift center on the Web. The organization is looking to make the campaign more interactive for donors, and launched a campaign on YouTube last month allowing supporters to create and upload their own videos explaining why they chose to donate to Heifer this year.

“We are trying to break into new markets and find a younger demographic,” Moore said. “We want to drive more market online, get into the mindset of alternative giving and tell why people should do it.”

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Washington, D.C., launched a Facebook gift catalog. The catalog is the first of its kind on the social networking site, and is modeled from WWF’s online gift center, which was launched in 2004.

The organization has more than 380,000 Facebook fans, so moving the catalog to the site was a natural next step, according to David Glass, director of online marketing.

“We wanted to make it really seamless and easy for people to connect with us and make a donation,” Glass said. “Even with our print catalog, most of the donation revenue is generated online.”

Glass said nearly 80 percent of the catalog revenue comes from the Web, 5 percent by phone and 10 percent through the mail. The Facebook gift center allows donors to contribute and select a symbolic animal to “adopt” from a list of more than 100 different species. The platform is connected to Facebook’s “Like” and “Share” applications, so users can show their contributions to friends and also create wish lists online.

Since WWF launched its original online gifting site, annual online giving has grown to $12.5 million in 2009, Glass said. He added that nearly 50 percent of online advertising revenue arrives during the holiday season.

Launching the gift center on Facebook is a way for the organization to begin to determine if social media is a viable source of revenue, he said. Donors have urged WWF to make donations even easier, and Glass said the Facebook platform will do just that.

“It’s a great way for us to test and see what kind of relationships we can have on social media sites,” he said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to connect with a large group of people who will be able to make charitable gifts and donations.”

Geoffrey Batrouney, executive vice president of Estee Marketing Group in New Rochelle, N.Y., said many factors are involved in shrinking the print catalog size for holiday campaigns. Postal regulations are a major influence on this move, as well as the notion of going green. Smaller catalogs often coincide with online marketing efforts, which today lean even more toward social media.

“Social media is a two-way street,” Batrouney said. “Having a presence on Facebook and Twitter allows donors to have the freedom of choice to interact with organizations whether it is 9 a.m. or 10 p.m. This is attempting to monetize social media,” he said of online gift catalogs. Batrouney said direct mail campaigns were seen as intrusive and were often shunned by donors, however that feeling has moved on to unwanted emails and spam mail, making catalogs a piece of welcome nostalgia.

“The catalog becomes a catalyst for action,” he said. “It proximates cause for donors acting, reacting and responding. It’s not just a branding tool or effort. People enjoy looking at it and holding a catalog. They can better understand an organization with it — it elevates their comfort level.”

In this year’s holiday catalog, World Vision is featuring Haiti, which is still recovering from last January’s devastating earthquake. Donors can sponsor children for three to 12 months, send different amounts of food and medical supplies, and also donate money toward long-term support for those affected by the quake.

Michelle King, director of the gift catalog and donor engagement for the Federal Way, Wash.-based charity, said adding the Haiti gifts was important to the organization in the wake of the one-year anniversary of the quake. This year, more than 11 million catalogs will be mailed to donors.

The catalog is still a viable engagement tool, King said, because World Vision’s primary donor base is adults between the ages 47 and 54.

“Our donors still respond quite a bit through mail,” she said. “We have an online catalog too, which is convenient, but not everyone is comfortable giving that way.”

Some 50 percent of donors last year responded via the Web, 36 percent through the mail and 14 percent by phone for the holiday campaign, King said. More than 100,000 donors bought over 600,000 items, raising $28 million for the charity, she said.

Although the Internet is dominating the fundraising channels for World Vision, King said there are no plans to move the entire campaign online just yet.

“We will keep our eye on the pulse, and see what trends are going on right now,” she said. “We have such a robust catalog offering, and there is something about the experience of flipping through the catalog that people like. A lot of parents use the catalog to demonstrate to their children about helping those in need too, so it is a learning tool.”

Although the Internet continues to emerge as a leading method of communication, the holiday gift catalog isn’t on its way to being obsolete just yet, according to Batrouney.

“I think as long as we have the donor profile of a mature older person in this country, there will be a place for catalogs and printed material,” he said. “There is just something very comforting about a catalog.” NPT

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