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Don’t be Afraid to Trade!

Are you trading your donor list with other non-profit organizations? If not, you’re missing out.

This is an excellent opportunity to enhance your direct mail fundraising campaigns.
If you aren’t familiar with list trading, it’s the practice of exchanging donor and/or membership lists with other charities or non-profit organizations to be used in acquisition mailings. Organization A mails a letter to Organization B’s donors, and vice versa – each hoping to obtain new donors by targeting people known to be supportive of particular causes and/or issues.

Many organizations are resistant to trading their list – afraid it will upset their donors or worried about legal issues and security of their data. While these are reasonable concerns, it’s definitely possible to trade your list in a way that’s secure, ethical, legally sound, and respectful of donor privacy.

Why is list trading beneficial?

First of all – it’s free! Instead of paying money to rent lists – often containing lower quality prospects – you’re engaging in a mutually beneficial system of trade with like-minded organizations. By working together, both organizations have the opportunity to acquire new donors and keep their overall mailing costs lower than with rented lists. (It should be noted that recently a very small number of brokers have started charging a minimal set-up fee to process these lists, but in the vast majority of list trades no money changes hands.)

Secondly – it works. Mailing to people you know are supportive of a particular cause generates higher response rates than contacting those from commercially generated rental lists who may not share common values and interests. In our experience, people who donate to charities through the mail tend to give to more than one organization. And, we’ve had great success helping clients achieve growth by trading lists with other non-profits with similar causes.

How does it work?

Trades are normally done on a 1-for-1 basis. In other words, for every name and address Organization A provides to Organization B, they expect the same number of names back in return. If your non-profit has a small trade file it’s usually possible to return the names owed over a few mailings – the reciprocation doesn’t have to be immediate. So don’t assume that because you’re a small non-profit you can’t trade with bigger groups – organizations with active acquisition programs are always looking for new lists to try.

Names are traded for one-time use only, and an exact date is usually agreed upon in advance to minimize the chances of mail-date conflicts. The industry standard is to avoid sending a prospect mailing out within three days of when the trading organization sends out a house mailing, so this leaves lots of leeway in terms of when you can use your trading partner’s list.

Criteria for the names being traded is agreed upon by the organizations involved, but the most common is to request names of individuals who have given a gift in the past 12-18 months. You don’t have to include all of your donors in your “trade file” and it’s common for organizations to leave their high end or monthly donors off their list.

Some non-profits take care of trading and reciprocation themselves, but there are also professional list brokers and managers (including Stratcom) that can help you facilitate this often time-consuming process. Whether you use a list broker or handle it in-house, you’ll need to ensure that all applicable rules and regulations are being followed in order to trade in a responsible manner.

Is trading allowed under privacy laws?

Yes. Federal and provincial privacy laws require you to give your donors the option to not have their name traded at least once a year. This is usually done through annual “renewal” mailings in the form of an “opt-out” or “do not trade” checkbox. As long as you’ve given your donors the ability to “opt-out”, ensure those who do opt-out are removed from your trade file, and your organization’s own privacy policy doesn’t forbid the practice, you can legally trade the names and addresses of the donors who haven’t opted out. Privacy legislation continues to evolve so it’s important that you review and stay up-to-date with current legislation and that you continue to ensure your trade file remains compliant.

How do you keep your data secure?

Data records are limited to name and address only – information which in most cases is readily available in the phone book – and no donation history or other sensitive information is included.
In order to transfer lists safely, you should send your data to a destination with a secure internal server or FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site, preferably with a password given in separate correspondence. And your trade file should be sent to a professional broker/list manager or data bureau with established safety and security protocols – not directly to another non-profit organization.

The benefits of trading your mailing list with other non-profit organizations and charities are considerable, and it can be done in a safe, responsible manner. So if list trading isn’t already part of your acquisition program strategy, you should give it a try and see for yourself the difference in makes in your direct mail results.

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