managing fundraising

Print Newsletters: Too Tired for a Wired World?

With all the information that’s available online, does it still make sense to pay printing and postage to send a paper newsletter?

It depends on your content, obviously. But for several of our nonprofit clients, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

As we look at the numbers, two favorable trends stand out.

1. Relatively consistent performance.

Newsletters produce a fairly predictable stream of revenue. It can vary slightly issue-to-issue, depending on the season or the strength of a story. But as the chart below shows, for this client – who has been mailing the same four-page newsletter format once a quarter for the past 10-plus years – the return is relatively stable.

In fact, it has gone up over the past few months, while per-piece revenue from every other format is on the decline. What's not to love about that?

2. Stronger results from strongest supporters.

We recently suggested another client expand their two-page biennial publication to a four-page format. We were concerned less about telling more stories, but wanted to be able to tell more of the stories we shared.

Overall, the test version won by a slight margin. Looking more closely, we discovered some interesting differences, as the chart below illustrates. Among donors with cumulative annual giving of $100 or less (the majority of this file), the rate of response was actually down a bit, but that was offset by a slightly higher average gift; the test package produced just over 1¢ more per piece mailed (not a breakeven proposition, by the way).

The test package produced far greater results among those donors with cumulative annual giving of $100 or more … with double-digit increases in both rate of response and average gift ... and a whopping 92¢ higher return per piece. Our better donors appreciate more information even more!

Why does print work?

I’m not sure. A print newsletter offers a unique chance to provide tangible evidence of the work you do. To tell donors what their support helps you accomplish. To educate supporters. To explain your mission. To deepen the relationship.

Sure, an enewsletter can help accomplish those goals, too. But not in the same way.
  • A physical package can break through the clutter (think of sorting your mail vs. scanning your in box).
  • It may add longevity (yesterday’s mail is still on the counter; yesterday’s email is well past the preview pane).
  • It can reach people who can’t – or won’t – go online (there still are that stubborn few).
  • Maybe people are just more used to giving in response to print (we're seeing enews donations trend up, but not yet close to print).
Granted, the print advantage may not last forever.

But the beauty of watching your metrics is that you’ll know when your print newsletter is truly too tired.

Fundraising Metrics 101

“You manage what you measure,” the old saying goes.

The ability to successfully manage a fundraising program relies on the availability of a number of benchmark metrics (or key performance indicators) that can be used to assess the health of the file (help guide longer term strategies) and the effectiveness of individual efforts (improve effectiveness at a more immediate, tactical level).

Two perspectives are key to assessing file health: the number of donors and the comparative value of those donors.

That may be obvious, but it’s not actionable. To be useful as a management tool, it must be further broken down in a manner that lets you set more specific goals and implement strategies and tacticts to accomplish those goals.

A donor pool is made up of three broad categories:
• New donors
• Returning donors
• Lapsed donors

These may be further segmented by key audience groups (e.g., indivdual or corporate supporters, volunteers and employees, etc.). In addition, I would advocate considering returning donors in three sub-categories:
• Conversion (first time donors who make a second gift)
• Renewals (prior year donors who give again this year)
• Reactivations (prior donors who lapse, i.e., have not given for at least a year)

Thus, to increase total donors, an organization can set goals for each of the above groupings of donors.

To prioritize those efforts (and add a revenue component to the objectives), the relative value of each segment must also be considered. Two dollar measures, applied by segment, help provide this perspective:
• Average gift
• Lifetime value (cumulative value over a three to five year period)

A number of additional measurements can be used to assess the performance of individual fundraising efforts. Again, these should be tracked by key audience segment.
• Response rate
• Cost per piece mailed
• Average gift
• Net return per piece mailed.

These indicators enable the fundraising manager to compare the effectiveness of individual efforts and spot trends (e.g., falling response rates or declining average gift) that call for adjustments in future efforts.

Each of these measures is a snapshot. Some (e.g., number of new donors or response rates to individual mailings) need to be updated more frequently (monthly or quarterly). Others (e.g., lifetime value) can be updated less frequently (e.g., annually).

The true value of these snapshots increases over time. In part, this is because the perspective becomes fuller with the input of additional data. More importantly, as the organization begins to see the tie between specific tactics and broader goals, it tends to become much more strategic – and effective – in its fundraising efforts.