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But Direct Mail is Dead…


Back in the 1980’s, when I first got started in direct mail to raise money for organizations I was campaigning for, some of my colleagues questioned the approach, asserting “but direct mail is dead.” And today, 25 years later, I’m still hearing it.

They weren’t right then, and they aren’t right now. When the programs of our direct mail clients (and those of many other Canadian organizations) are making hundreds of thousands or millions of net dollars per year, I know that the death of direct mail isn’t coming anytime soon. Yes, it might be a bit harder right now, but it still works well for those doing it right and investing in developing their program, and integrating it appropriately with other channels of communications and fundraising.

Gord Muschett of The Donnée Group, a leading Canadian Direct Mail agency, makes some great points in his post for the AFP Toronto Blog about the myth that direct mail fundraising is history:

Let me ask – do you bank on your cellphone? Back in 2000, I was front and centre during the dot-com boom with Canada’s stock market darling, 724 Solutions. Here’s a clip from the news on the day of their IPO:

There’s a new kid in town on Nasdaq– and the kid is from Canada. The company’s name is 724 Solutions and it’s going public at a time when investors are hungry for fresh high-tech stories, especially in the high-demand field of wireless communications.  The 6 million shares that made up the company’s first stock offering surged Friday, the first unofficial day of trading, to $71.81 US on Nasdaq and $103.50 in Toronto.

And here’s a more recent clip:

  • Nasdaq 5,000: 10 years later
  • Flashback: The tech bubble was about to burst
  • Remember these stocks?

724 Solutions, a network and data service company, was regularly gaining $20 a share back then, pushing the stock price of the former dot-com darling close to $300. By 2006, the stock was delisted from the Nasdaq.

Why the financial history lesson on a fundraising conference blog? I think it’s a lesson you should remember…

Fads come and go. Ten years ago, people were making millions on a bet that the world was going to bank through their wireless device. To this day that hasn’t happened and some people lost their shirts (and pants) because of it.

Gord’s skepticism about techno-“fads” is understandable given his experience. In the end, a balanced approach is usually the best one. A successful direct mail program can help maintain a support base to branch out from, and a solid platform from which to launch your latest social networking campaign, mobile phone application, telefundraising or other innovative fundraising method. And some of those methods can feed your direct mail program with new donors and warm prospects, who will appreciate and respond to that particular medium. The key to most top fundraising programs is integration, using the  appropriate tool in the best way, synergistically with others.

When you hear someone say “this approach solves all your problems” or “this approach will solve none of them” there is good chance they are wrong.

Direct mail is not dead – it remains a reliable fundraising tool, and many successful organizations will continue use it as  an important part of their donor fundraising program.

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