Posted on by Dave Erlandson | No Comments »

There are over 1.8 million non-profit organizations in the U.S. And direct mail is still the favored medium for non-profits. In 2010 approximately 17% of the US bulk mail sent, roughly 11 billion pieces, was related to the non-profit sector. Direct mail in the non-profit sector is:

  • The top driver in soliciting (single gift) donations
  • Primary source of revenue for most N/P orgs
  • Primary medium for acknowledging gifts
  • Cost-effective
  • Effective at driving online gifts
  • Preferred medium by consumers
  • Track-able and measureable
  • Not going away soon

Caslon, the management company of PODi has analyzed the PODi case study database and found that the top challenges and objectives for non-profits are:

  • Strengthening relationships with donors
  • Raising funds
  • Generating/nurturing leads
  • Managing association events

Let’s take a closer look at the issue of Strengthening Relationships with Donors and how it can be tackled with solutions that involve digital printing. Non-profits today are tackling this issue in four ways:

  1. Gathering data on existing donors/supporters
  2. Soliciting feedback
  3. Engaging with relevant information
  4. Using automation to speed donor fulfillment packages


One of the first steps to developing strong relationships with donors and supporters is to learn more about their affiliation with the organization, their motivations and their preferences for future communications.

The Seattle Humane Society (SHS) is a private, nonprofit animal welfare organization that serves the people and animals of King County, Washington with a variety of programs including adoptions, veterinary services, dog training classes, a pet food bank, and humane education for children of all ages.

For large donors, the SHS Development Office makes personal phone calls to learn more about them, such as what pets they have, if they adopted from SHS and what SHS programs they are interested in. SHS also wanted to learn more about smaller donors but making phone calls to this larger group would not have been feasible.

SHS needed a campaign that would reach donors and gather information from them in order to:

  • Develop targeted leads for potential volunteers
  • Build upon their existing opt-in email list
  • Understand what types of services current donors prefer SHS to focus on
  • Understand what type of content current donors would prefer SHS to focus on in out-reach publications
  • Improve connections to donors who might be interested in making additional donations of time or money
  • Develop targeted leads for potential adoptees and collect basic metrics regarding their current and future animal ownership, and preferences for on-going SHS contact via phone, email or print.

A direct marketing campaign was developed for SHS which engages new donors to learn more about them. A letter from the CEO or Director of Development is sent to new donors, inviting them to visit a Personalized URL and complete an online survey that helps SHS learn more about donors. Donors are also given the option to complete a paper survey and send it back via an enclosed return envelope. Two weeks after the letter is sent, a reminder postcard is sent to non-responders.


To encourage donors to complete the survey all respondents are entered into a drawing. Offered gifts have included a $100 gift card, a $250 SHS Pet Adoption package, and SHS gift baskets.

The primary objective of this campaign was to gather information on donors. Unexpectedly, a campaign that initially cost the SHS $3,000 received over $4,000 in contributions. Other results included:

  • 17% response rate to initial campaign – recipients provided information via either a paper or online survey
  • This campaign has been repeated three additional times and each time yielded a 14-20% response rate
  • The response mechanism used has been close to evenly split between an online survey at a Personalized URL and a printed survey. For a mid-2010 campaign, 53% of the responses came in via reply mail and 47% via the Personalized URL
  • SHS determined that donors outside of a 35-mile radius are extremely unlikely to respond, but the incremental cost of sending to these donors is very low
  • Findings from the mid campaign included:
    • 68% of new donors had adopted an animal in the past and 30% had adopted from SHS
    • 6% planned to adopt a cat and 14% a dog
    • 38% were interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with the SHS
    • 40% opted in to receive further email communications from SHS

Any organization looking to deepen its relationship with customers, donors or other constituents should first spend the time and effort to learn more about them. This can lead to personalized communications that are meaningful to the recipient. SHS uses the data it has gathered on donors to segment its audience for campaign needs throughout the year.

(For more details on Ideas that Work, read the full Caslon white paper, “Not-for-Profit Solution: Strengthening Relationships with Donors and Supporters.”)

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