General Ramblings: Protected From Whom?

September 15, 2008       Paul Clolery      

Susan G. Komen For the Cure (SGK) began evolving its direct mail program in February 2007. This past May it starting dropping the blackout dates for swapping its donor files. It is also evolving its direct response program so that it is not tied to a mail piece or calendar plan but to when the donor was acquired, cementing a one-to-one relationship.

“Our names are not available for rent. It’s strictly exchange. However, to acquire names from other like-minded, worthy nonprofits, it was incumbent upon us to be more open,” said Tabetha Leinweber, manager of direct marketing at SGK.

Industry-wide, the protected mail date, long a staple of the charitable list marketplace, is now in flux. And, the process of clearing list usage months in advance of a mail date is starting to be relaxed throughout the industry.

The weak economy, pressure for increased revenue and moving to a donor-centric strategy are responsible for changes in how charities market donor files and how they handle list exchanges.

And when it comes to a revenue push, non-reciprocal fees are getting dropped very quickly to make the deal, said Rich Leary, vice president and national sales manager of RMI Direct Marketing, in Danbury, Conn. A non-reciprocal fee occurs when a mailer doesn’t make its own list available for rental or swap. The fee generally runs $15 per thousand names on top of the actual cost. “In this day and age everyone is looking for names. If someone entering the fray doesn’t bring their list with them, they are not going to get a deal,” said Leary.

Pricing discounts and policy on mail dates are all over the place right now, according to John Briley, vice president of list management at Direct Media in Greenwich, Conn. “Most of our clients do not protect mail dates, but there are some who do. Past research shows that protecting mail dates doesn’t improve response rates.”

Consumer mailers rarely care about protecting dates. For example, it’s not unusual for a consumer to receive several catalogs in the mail on the same day. It’s the offer that makes the difference, according to Michael J. Cousineau, co-CEO of ParadyszMatera in Minneapolis. While some charities are dropping the mail date protections, others are becoming more restrictive. “What we have found is that mail date protection standards have remained the same, if not gotten tighter,” said Cousineau. “List owners are more stringent on the creative being allowed and holding exchange balances in tighter control. Some clients are protecting their high-dollar donors even more so by re-defining Ôhigh dollar’ to include lower giving levels. Some high dollar selects that are made available on a Ôcase-by-case’ basis are now being rescinded from long-standing relationships, in list owners’ efforts to protect their high-dollar donors.”

According to Jenny Floria, senior director of account management at ParadyszMatera, “What’s happening, it’s not the mail date that is protected, it is the offer.” She explained that some list owners are examining what is going to be in the mailbox, not necessarily which organization or date. The idea is to prevent two label packages or calendar packages from showing up on the same day. That’s happened recently when calendars for The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Defenders of Wildlife all showed up in mailboxes either on the same day or within a day or two of each other.

“Having said that, there is a movement to shift from pre-clearing lists and mail dates to simply relying on list orders to let access to lists play out. This does not mean that restrictions have been lifted. It is simply an attempt to reduce the amount of paperwork that is shuffled between brokers and managers,” said Cousineau. “The possibility that a list will be denied due to mail date restrictions is still possible, but only later in the game after the list has already been counted on within a strategic plan.”

Mailers cutting programs has resulted in list owners being short of list revenue goals, “yet with response rates declining, list owners are looking to protect their house files even further from competitive offers,” said Floria. “And to add more turmoil to the situation, mailers who participate in co-operative databases know that their names are not their own. There is substantial co-ownership of names across organizations.”

She explained that there has been an increased interest and participation in multiple co-op databases. “So while list owners are attempting to tighten down controls via straight list rentals/exchanges, the irony is that list owners are actually in less control of their names via the co-ops. Dupe rates are increasing and co-ownership is at even higher levels,” she said. At SGK, it’s more about getting fresh names through non-traditional list sources and moving more to a donor-centric model for direct response marketing, explained Leinweber. “We are in the development stages of implementing a new strategic direction for our direct response program,” she said. “Donors know what customer service means. They know what it means to be treated with respect and expect a certain level of service when they deal with businesses. That carries over to the nonprofit. They want to be treated fairly and treated right. It’s the transparency they want and they should get it,” she said.

Leinweber said that just because it’s September, that doesn’t mean that every donor should get the “September package.” Communicating with donors in a one-to-one fashion opens the donor up for two-way dialogue between the donor and the organization, she explained.

Another reason the idea of protecting mail dates is becoming quaint is because of the United States Postal Service’s time window for delivery. “It’s irrelevant when the post office has a seven-day delivery window. It’s losing the logic (in protecting the date),” said Cousineau.

Leinweber agreed with Cousineau. “Delivery is not reliable,” she said. NPT