Guest Blog: Lydia Eckhoff of Crossworld Talks Direct Mail Strategy (Part 1 of 2)


For the second week of M&C #year_endbootcamp, we invited Lydia Eckhoff, Director of Development at Crossworld, to share her insights from planning Crossworld's approach to direct mail fundraising.

Lydia Eckhoff has served as Crossworld’s Director of Development for the past four years. Crossworld is an international Christian nonprofit with headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Crossworld’s dream is to engage those from all professional backgrounds, not just vocational religious workers, in mission work. Most of Crossworld’s international staff raise funds for their individual ministries, but the development department raises funds for special projects (such as hurricane relief in Haiti) or organizational initiatives.

What have been some of the biggest overall changes you’ve made to your direct mail plan over the past few years?

Our biggest change has been viewing the direct mail letter as one step in a relationship-building process. We now put just as much attention into the follow up plan for donors who give as we do to the initial offer and promotion. I was very influenced by Penelope Burk’s research in Donor-Centered Fundraising about how donors want a prompt, personal thank you, followed by a report on what the charity actually did with the money. We’ve tried to do that with each project that we promote. When we are in the middle of an active campaign, we send a card with a photo from the project area right after the gift, and then three months later we send a report on how the project is going and how the money made a difference. For larger gifts, we’ll add a phone call to the mix.

The impact of this approach has been exciting! We have seen increased retention among donors and more repeat gifts as a result. Donors have been vocal about how this follow up blesses them and enriches their lives. I had an in-person meeting with one of our donors, and she said, “I love giving to Crossworld, because I always hear back from you what you did with my money, and I see that you did what I hoped you would do when I gave. I feel very confident giving because of that.” My assistant and I both spend a lot of time on our donor stewardship process, so comments like that are very validating for us. Donors are a key part of our mission, so it’s important that we treat them like the valued stakeholders they are.

How did you decide where to invest?

Unrestricted donations are the hardest type of funds to raise, so we want to be especially proactive with that segment of our donor base. So there are things we do for them that we don’t do for other segments, like calls from board members or handwritten cards. Within the group of unrestricted donors, we’ve found that first-time unrestricted donors benefit from special attention. Over the past four years, we’ve improved overall unrestricted donor retention from 45% to 60% (while growing the overall number of unrestricted donors). For first-time unrestricted donors, the effect in that time interval has been even more pronounced, going from 14% to 48%.

This summer, our team has been thinking a lot about where to cut back so that we can allocate time and resources more strategically. I’m convinced we can get 95% of the unrestricted revenue that comes in with 80% of the effort we are currently putting in. The question is just where to cut—we want to be very strategic about what to stop doing, and where we can reallocate those resources for highest ROI. I expect that we will end up focusing even more on first-time donors on one end of the spectrum, and then on the other end also giving special attention to our most loyal donors as we think about legacy giving promotions. And, since we’re a small shop, I want to spend more time on non-direct mail aspects of development like foundation grants and major donor visits.

Can you tell us about how you’ve fine-tuned your welcome strategy and what the results have been like?

We made a number of changes this summer with input from M&C. We’ve added thank-you calls for first-time unrestricted donors from board members. The board members have started to realize that making calls can be fun—and donors love to hear from them. Also, board members have so much more credibility than I do as a staff person (although I make a fair number of thank you calls as well.)

We used to have a welcome series that ended in a request for a monthly giving commitment, but that was getting very minimal response. I had seen research about the importance of monthly giving, and the unique window of opportunity you have to ask after a first-time gift, but it wasn’t working for us. In dialogue with M&C, we concluded that a monthly commitment was too high a bar for a new donor, so we pivoted to only asking for a second donation. We also made some changes to the format of the welcome letter—making it more modular and visual so that the letter itself got to the point sooner. We’ve only been using the new welcome series for a month, but we are tracking what’s happening and hope to see improvement over the next few months.


Check back for part 2, which focuses on messaging in direct mail fundraising, on Wednesday, October 11.