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Think Of Your Nonprofit As A Magazine

By Andy Segedin - March 29, 2016

Your organization might not share a lot of similarities with the magazine industry upon first glance, but common ground is likely there. A reliance on direct mail and email to solicit an audience, dependence on renewals and shared special interest or common concerns often serves as a base for both.

The difference is that magazines, and other for-profits, are boasting sizable leads compared to nonprofits in such metrics. Magazines beat nonprofits in average direct-mail response rate (4% to 1.5%), according to Anne and Josef Kottler of Sage Communications in Framingham, Mass., and hold a 70% to 40% advantage in average retention rate. The Kottlers, citing an Association of Fundraising Professionals survey, stated that less than 3% of organizations claim a retention rate of 70% or better.

The Kottlers took aim at narrowing the gap between for-profit institutions such as magazines and nonprofits during their program “What Nonprofits Can Learn from For-Profits” during the recent DMA 2016 Washington Nonprofit Conference. Key takeaways from the session included:

* Grab attention and set a tone with your envelope. Bigger and graphic-heavy envelopes have the potential to grab the attention of recipients in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, but neither are sure things. Official-looking envelopes usually win over responses, according to Anne Kottler. Highlighting membership cards, emphasizing offers for free posters or tote bags on the envelope itself and making reference to a potential gift or offer inside have all proved successful. Some for-profit entities will print “Do not bend” on envelopes even if there is nothing inside at risk of being bent just to promote a sense of importance, Josef Kottler said.

* What’s inside your envelope should relate to the envelope message, but also serve a unique function. Include the offer or ask early and often. Personalization is key and you-centric language is a means of achieving such a goal, putting the emphasis on the recipient.  Reveal folds and testimonials have shown success in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

* Be proactive in terms of retention. The average magazine sends at least 12 renewal efforts annually and sends notices six months prior to expiration, Josef Kottler said. Countdowns or the threat of lost subscriptions add urgency to retention efforts and magazines continue to send renewal information after expiration. Some magazines have switched to auto-renewal programs similar to that organizational sustainer programs.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), headquartered in Washington, D.C., is using data and the experiences of the for-profit community to adjust its practices, according to Sam Parry, director of membership, who also spoke during the session. EDF added a ninth wave of what was an eight-part renewal program. EDF’s revenue had been evenly split between appeals and renewals, but that has declined during the past decade to a 65-35 split in favor of appeals.

One reason for the skew toward appeals might be that Baby Boomers, who are replacing members of the Greatest Generation as organizations’ prime donors, have less allegiance to a specific organization and are more cause-driven, according to Parry. EDF has tried to combat this with a renewal package that stands out from appeals with a more institutional message. The renewals emphasize the recipient, thanking them for standing with EDF. The new messages bested a control group of packages in response rate, 5.15% to 2.89%, and average gift, $53.22 to $52.03.

EDF is also testing a January track, the beginning of a renewal cycle at the beginning of the calendar year as opposed to October, the beginning of the organization’s fiscal year. A “plus” track has been added to urge donors who have not given in 13 to 24 months to provide support.


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