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Start planning now: 2008's politically-infused direct mail rat race has started.

In a typical presidential election year, the mail pieces circulating can increase anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent in the first half, and can as much as double in the second half of the year. With the upcoming presidential and congressional elections in 2008, it is not your typical election year.

"Some of us may not be political organizations or need to be aware during the political season," said Kristin McCurry, president, MINDset Direct in Arlington, Va. "But this is a very different political season coming up." McCurry compared it to post-9/11, when many nonprofits stopped mailing. "Those who stayed the course were very happy that they did, and now they're reaping the benefits of mail. Those organizations that panicked and stopped mailing, they paid for it. And now, years later, they are still missing that vital injection that they needed."

According to Steve Kehrli, director of planning and list services at Adams Hussey & Associates in Washington, D.C., timing is everything. Because with predictions of 10 and 20 million direct mail packages from political committees, and others claiming there will be more than 20 million, the bottom line is there's going to be a whole lot of politically-infused mail going out during 2008.

At a recent Direct Marketing Association NonProfit Federation event session entitled, "Nonpolitical--Then How Can You Raise Money in a Presidential Election Year," Kehrli and McCurry were joined by Jean Simmons, director of direct response fundraising at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Baltimore, and Mary Beth McIntyre, principle at Win-Win Giving in Newton, Mass. They doled out tips for how nonpolitical nonprofits can survive the potentially very heated 2008 presidential and congressional election season.


With an emphasis on prospecting, Kehrli provided the following tips for how nonpolitical nonprofits can mail smarter during certain times of the year:

Review performance history. After reviewing the performance history over several years for a domestic relief client, Kehrli created a response index across acquisition and house mailings, examining how the organization fared during primary periods. The result was mail performance dipped during October and increased during December. In that case, Kehrli suggested that the client reduce mailings in October and increase in December. Additionally, examine your offers. If you have multiple offers, see if one performs better during this period.

Get to know your prospects' political leanings. Examine a suppression report or list interaction report from your most recent merge, said Kehrli. He cited one client where 6,000 of the 50,000 on file were GOP-identified. "Understand your database, who is on there, who they're giving to," said Kehrli, who recommended: throwing in another voter ID file for better results.

Use external resources to produce a profile report. Or, said Kehrli, check with other internal sources around the makeup of your donors. Look into where your donors' attentions could go come election cycle. Talk to colleagues.

Assess the 2007-08 political season and chart the course now. Spread out mailings, if warranted. And, consider pulling back some volume from the heavy months September and October. Revisit an offer if it's appropriate and/or if it's format. Something that didn't work last May could in fact work this year.

Anticipate blocked mail dates. The Democratic and Republican national committees are going to block mail dates, so charge your list broker with identifying these dates, thinking ahead, and clearing alternative dates.

Exchange with new mailers--but be wary. Get up-front in writing how you'll get your rented names back from a political entity, and consider using a third party to ensure access to them post-election.

Establish a post-election plan. By Nov. 20, have a plan to be on top of your mailing come the next mailing season. Schedule a post-mortem now for Inauguration Day 2008.


"I love the idea of a post-mortem on election day," said McCurry of MINDset Direct, who went on to discuss why 2008 will be "a very different political season because of major changes" including:

A new stream of donors. "We no longer have blue and red," said McCurry, "we have a kind of purple." McCurry said "the purple" typically reside in states "we see as our donor states." Of the new stream of voters, "they'll be available to us after the election, and even after the primaries. However, they're very different donors than traditional donor lists--more idealistic. Keeping them with the standard appeals will be more difficult."

They are not just more idealistic. McCurry described these donors as younger, more active, many of whom are making their first gifts. They also have different expectations, she said. They expect a different approach to the problem and the solution, targeted communication, integrated messaging, communities which they can join, and they want to understand what is the result and impact of their giving.

Make the most of what you have. McCurry advised an increased focus on warm prospects within your organization, saying, "you may need in this election year to turn to them as opposed to cold lists." She even went so far as to suggest offering gift designation opportunities. "Most larger, committed donors won't select the designation option. They already trust you," said McCurry, who said the option provides benefits such as measurable results. She also suggested recognizing the work donors' gifts are providing in an acknowledgment, and "that they're playing for the right team, regardless of whether they're Democrat, Republican or Independent."

Because acquisition is typically the most unpredictable program, for the 2007-08 election season an organization should use the more predictable aspects of the program--but stay the course. Tap into lapsed pools, and begin to mail smaller to these groups. Mail deeper to donors with multiple touch points with your organization, and, said McCurry, utilize modeling and cross-reference with activities within your organization and with other nonprofits. Consider new selects on old standbys, she added.


Several factors have a major or minor impact on the direct mail program at Catholic Relief Services, an international disaster relief nonprofit with no political lean. According to Simmons, political climate and state of the economy are two of those factors.

"We deploy the same tactics as we would during an emergency campaign," said Simmons, who said CRS has struggled through the years "carving out space, settling on the right mix." Mail delivery norms are closely monitored during the pre-election season (first class for certain segments could be needed to ensure timely delivery), and an emphasis is placed on donor satisfaction.

"Today's Catholics in the U.S. are politically diverse," said Simmons, who cited the 2004 presidential election where 52 percent of Catholics voted for the incumbent, while 47 percent voted for Democratic candidate John Kerry. "Many Catholics have elevated the role of personal conscience and are comfortable choosing elements of the faith they agree with or disagree with. They place a limited value on loyalty and tradition," Simmons noted. She explained that Catholics moving into the age groups associated with strong donor support are much more highly educated than previous generations.

Simmons provided the following techniques utilized by CRS:

* Quality incentives, donor surveys;

* Focus on acknowledgment program to ensure it gets in homes in a timely manner;

* Winning back of individuals with targeted mailings;

* Offers to re-instate prospects to the list with fewer mailings;

* Thank you calls to all new donors, and to all current donors who give gifts of $25 and more.
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Title Annotation:POLITICS
Author:Nobles, Marla E.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Sep 15, 2007
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