The vast majority of Catholic fundraising organizations use direct mail to acquire new donors and raise much-needed funds. Successful Catholic fundraisers know that the role of the list broker is much more than a simple vendor role. Successful fundraisers include the list broker in strategic planning and inform the broker of new developments and changes that will impact the circulation plans, goals and objectives.
What exactly does a fully informed and engaged list broker do for a fundraiser? Here are some of the key performance deliverables that a fundraiser’s list broker can be expected to offer:
· Ongoing research in the list marketplace
· Regular consideration of eligible, new lists
· Development of strategies to more fully utilize existing lists
· Negotiating advantageous pricing and terms for the mailer/fundraiser
In addition, we know that lists are not all the same. Only a qualified, experienced and skilled list broker can provide these services and guide the fundraiser to making the “right” decisions regarding lists. Does this mean that every list that is recommended by the broker will “work” and produce new donors at break-even or better for the fundraiser? No, the reality is it will likely cost money for each new donor. But it does mean that the mailer will be less likely to mail a list that in reality does not have the characteristics that are most desirable for them.
For example, is the list—as described on the datacard—really “100% direct mail sold active + Donors”? Is the list in question really “updated quarterly” or “updated monthly”? Is this list “clean” and deliverable, not only updated but “NCOA’d quarterly”? These are seemingly simple and basic points, but their investigation by the broker is critical and will impact the outcome of the mailing. A skilled broker will dig deeply on your behalf, and get straight answers from list managers for you.
In its simplest sense, a list broker “rents lists for the mailer”, but a successful Catholic fundraiser—and every fundraiser wants to be successful!—expects more than just “renting lists”. Usually, successful fundraisers include the broker in the decision-making process concerning answers to the questions, “what should we mail?”, “when should we mail?” and “to whom should we mail?” This clearly means that the fundraiser is including the broker in the strategic planning process, and also the tactical, executional process.
An example of “enhanced broker services” would be a discussion regarding a proposed mailing that will include both Active Donor names, and prospects. Firstly, the broker can not rent any names, or seek exchanges unless the quantity available for prospecting is known. The quantity will be driven by how many Active Donors can be mailed profitably, based on past performance. An active, involved broker who has ongoing access to results and house file update reports can help address that point. Let’s say that 80,000 Active Donors can be mailed. That leaves 20,000 prospects……but the fundraiser might have 50,000 Lapsed Donors, and the broker can utilize the services of outside data mining companies to select the very best 20,000 Lapsed Donors to mail, hoping to reactivate them.
In this case, the broker is not “renting lists”; the broker is delivering value-added circulation planning services, and that is a significant upgrade of quantifiable benefit to the fundraiser.
But if the circulation does require the acquisition of donors via list rental or list exchanges, a qualified, engaged broker is uniquely positioned to offer value-added services, even in the limited role of just “renting lists”. Here are some examples.
Expanding Use of an Existing List
Every mailer has a “top 10” list-of-lists, lists that work very well, regularly and over time. Every time you do a new donor acquisition mailing, you rent these top lists. But can you do more? If you let your broker see your mailing results, at the detail level, a skilled broker can make recommendations to you that can minimize your risk while expanding your potential mailing universe.
If you are very successful taking “12 month $5+ Donors”, he or she would likely suggest that you mail a test quantity of “13 to 18 month $10+ donors”, and “19-24 month $10+ Donors”.
If you currently mail a list and take on rental or exchange “All Available 12 month Donors”, perhaps the next time you mail that list you should still take all the 12 month names, but divide the order into two segments—All Available 12 month Female Donors and All Available 12 month Omit Female Donors. Code each segment and read the results. Then, you can likely select older names by Gender and mail names that you might otherwise not be able to justify mailing.
If you analyze your results with your broker, and examine each and every list with a view to mailing deeper, more effectively, more efficiently, you will uncover some opportunities that you can test with your risk minimized.
Strategically Testing Within Continuation Lists
Let’s say that the fundraiser always rents the “12 month $5+ Catholic Donors” from another fundraiser. If the results are very strong, or if the results are variable and are not consistent, but are still acceptable, we might recommend that the mailer test a slightly different segment of that same list—the 12 month $5+ donors, but in this case the non-Catholic donors. Several large lists can be segmented and mailed using this strategy. The objective is to expand your universe while minimizing your risk. Depending on your appeal, this could be a viable segment.
Mailers regularly taking “0 to 12 month donors” from a single list should break the order into recency segments that should be coded and tracked. eg., 0 to 3 month donors, 4 to 6 month donors, 7 to 9 month donors and 10 to 12 month donors. If the list is a smaller-sized list, then 0 to 6 month and 7 to 12 month can be tested.
Does a continuation list—a known, successful list that delivers excellent results time after time—really need to have a dollar select applied to it if the average donation is high? A broker willing to dig into the file and ask searching questions of the list manager might well recommend that mailer avoid the extra cost of paying for “$5+ donors” or “$10+ donors” while preserving the list’s status as a winner.
When you share with your broker all your results on an on-going basis, your broker can then accumulate a body of knowledge about seasonality differences and offer differences. Over time, your broker can then make strategic recommendations that more closely align your best offer with your best mailing date(s) and your best lists.
Do you have a very successful list that you use regularly, but which is not updated more than once or twice annually? A close review of the results might well indicate that you can (and should) have your broker obtain access to that list for a remail (or reuse) of the existing, not-updated names. A good broker can do that, and your costs will be decreased because you will only pay (or exchange) at the net-net quantity. That is, you will only pay for what you actually mail.
Donor file updates and the timing of mailings also affect whether a mailer should or should not omit a prior order. Let’s say that a donor gives money every month to an organization whose list you regularly use. Should you only mail that person once, or not? If you are placing two orders for two mailings 3 months apart, should you ask that the second order suppress the names ordered on the first order? This is not an academic question—the answer can impact your results in a meaningful way. The answer is that you should test omitting prior orders, against not omitting prior orders—and of course, your broker can help you set up the orders to test this concept.
Using Non-traditional Data Mining Techniques
Every mailer, every fundraiser addresses two significant challenges on a daily basis—how to move one-time donors to become two-time-plus repeat, active donors, and what to do with very large quantities of lapsed donors. Just as there are companies we can employ on a fundraiser’s behalf to append email addresses to donors so fundraisers can communicate with their donors, there are companies that can identify and “optimize” your lapsed donors. That is, many donors give to you once, and then become dormant—with you, but not with other organizations. These donors are giving elsewhere. A skilled broker can arrange to take your lapsed donors and “cherry pick” the sub-set you should attempt to reactivate. Every fundraiser has lapsed donors, and every fundraiser knows that there are hidden gems in the lapsed donor file, but no fundraiser can afford to mail the entire lapsed donor file to uncover the gems. We suggest adopting a very cost-effective strategy that you can carefully test before making a “roll out” decision, based on known, reported results.
Creating a Complete “Results Picture”
Not too many years ago, a donor could mail a gift, fax a donation or give money with a telephone call. That is no longer the case, which is both a good thing and a complicating factor when you and your broker are attempting to analyze results and make decisions about the performance of donor segments and prospect lists. Many organizations now have anywhere from 5% to 40% of all responses and gifts coming via the internet, and without a tracking code, how does one know which list or donor segment produced that gift? The answer is that you need to work with your broker and service bureau to undertake regular matchbacks, a “reverse merge-purge” that will match the donor name to the mailed source. You can then obtain a more complete picture of our results. Keep in mind, that even after the matchback you will have many donations that do not match a source, and this “white mail” count will also need to be factored in to your decision-making. Various allocation methods can help to address this final complicating factor.
What role does a broker have in this arcane, seemingly technical aspect of direct mail? For many successful mailers, “the merge” is given a lot of attention. Put simply, the merge-purge is the process by which we ensure that only mailing piece goes to one person, rather than 4 mailing pieces going to one person. We merge our lists and match them to our donor files….and then we purge the multiple instances of a person appearing on more than one list, or on the donor file and one or more outside lists. Simple, right? Well, yes and no!
We know that a list that has many names matched to a mailer’s house file is a list that has a very strong likelihood of being successful. We also know that mailers rarely rent or exchange only one list when they are prospecting for new donors; they routinely use 10, 20, 30 or more lists. We strongly advise our clients and all mailers to allocate the multi-donors to their source lists on a random, proportionate basis. That is, neither the broker nor the mailer should force multi-donors to a single list; that falsely guarantees the success of that list and strips the donors from other lists, almost guaranteeing that they will not be successful. This includes allocating multi’s to exchange lists, which is a policy some fundraisers have in place. A test should always be a fair, repeatable test, not a predetermined-outcome-test. Your broker should be part of the merge-purge process, and work with you and the service bureau to ensure a fair and controlled mailing is produced.
Circumstances and technological developments have evolved in the last 10 years to the point where a list broker has an expanded role in your marketing services team. The brokers who are engaged and skilled are in a position to offer a broad range of marketing services, advice and counsel. Clearly list brokers do rent lists on behalf of their mailers, but as we have detailed here, brokers can do more than just rent lists, or manage exchange balances for you. Challenge your broker to do more—you never know what you might have been missing unless you ask!
For additional information, please contact Geoff Batrouney, Executive Vice President
(914) 235-7080 ext. 308 or firstname.lastname@example.org