Following up on Lori Rice’s article, Customize Communications to Increase Donor Loyalty, I’d like to explore three practical ways that you can personalize your fundraising letters.

In other words, the logistics of how to get away from “Dear Friend” and other impersonal elements that take away from the power of direct mail.

Steve Maggio of DaVinci Direct, writing for FundraisingSuccess Magazine says:

Every message you send to your donor should sound like a one-to-one conversation. Talk to the donor as if you know her, and are cognizant of her interests and giving preferences. I like to have a personalized salutation on my letters, and I often use the donor’s name and state and/or town name in the body of the letter.

Inserting custom elements like these helps create a letter that is more personable and appealing.  So, now you might be thinking “this is too complicated” or “this is too expensive for our nonprofit.”  Personalized direct mail communications can be easier and more cost effective than one might assume.  All of this customization is done through an automated process of some type, using your database or spreadsheet with the details for each donor.

Also keep in mind that when using personalization, your response rate will go up — more donations coming in the door!  You’ll also likely build more trust and goodwill by sending more targeted communications.  Building lasting relationships with supporters and getting more donations are our real goals, right? (Not cost or administrative concerns.)

1. Take Advantage of the Power of Group Mailouts

One strategy is to print letters in bulk that will be used in several mailings.  Then you can run the shells through for customization as you need them.  This is often done with newsletters and is the basic concept of ordering letterhead in massive quantities.

Another option is to actually do a combined mailout with another nonprofit. One company that’s made this concept work well is Starfish Marketing.   They create a complete, professionally written and laid out mail package.  Each piece is created by a team of pros who constantly test to see what works and what doesn’t, so you can get the highest response rate possible.  Nonprofits from across the country participate in the same mailing, so the cost of printing and postage is greatly reduced.  In fact, your nonprofit can use this service even if you are only sending out 1,000 letters!

Don’t get the wrong idea though.  Your mailing will not really look like anyone else’s other than the basic framework.  You provide them the custom elements like your logo, photos and mission statement.  You can start with their letter template and tweak it, or use your own letter.

Starfish MarketingYou can personalize with the donor’s name or or other specific information in the letter (front and back pages) and the reply piece.

This system takes out a lot of the guesswork and the postal, data, and creative hassles that can make direct mail so difficult and time-consuming for you. You’ll have a high quality mailing that has the best chance of success.

Starfish Marketing produces a different mailing each month. In November the theme will be a holiday card that uses handwriting style type. (As example of how customized you can make your mailing, use your own photo for the greeting card, not just the stock winter scene they provide!) For more information on this or any of their other scheduled mailings, call Margaux Parento at 954-943-7740.

2. Tricks for Going the DIY Route

If you are sending just a hundred to a couple thousand letters at one time you can still opt to go the DIY (Do it Yourself) route.

In our one hour telesmeminar earlier this summer, Sandy Rees and I talked about a couple of ways that you can personalize each letter and print them at a local copy shop to save money.

Of course one of the drawbacks to this approach is that you have to do all of the customization fields yourself, check to make sure the merge from the data file to the letters was successful, and weed out duplicates.  You may also be limited to black and white only printing (though you could use your own stationary with your color logo.)  Then there’s the hassle of stuffing envelopes and sorting for postal service bulk mail requirements.

Depending on just how many letters you are sending, I’d advise pricing the DIY option ahead of time.  You may not be saving as much money as you thought.  But, in a pinch this is still a step up from sending out the Dear Friend letter!

3. Choose Your Printing / Mail House Carefully

Many nonprofits work with printing companies that both print, stuff and mail out their direct mail campaigns.  There are three vital requirements that you should look for when choosing a service provider.

First, make sure you are working with a company that has extensive experience with direct mail, not just an all around printer who mainly does brochures or stationary.  Even further, ask the printer what nonprofit organizations they have worked with.  If they have experience with nonprofit clients they will likely have a stronger understanding of your goals and what you need from a mailing.

Next, ask the printer what additional services they offer.  Will they print envelopes too? Do they stuff and mail for you as well?  The services of a full service print and mail house can be a big advantage in time, hassle and cost savings for you.

Finally, make sure they can do the personalization of each mail piece that you need and get a price quote on this service.

EChris & Doug from Inline Digital Imagearlier this year I had an enjoyable visit with Chris Smith (left in photo) and company founder Doug Johnson (right) of Inline Digital Image in Arlington, Texas.   As I toured their printing facility I was amazed at the lightning speed of this huge printing press.  But it’s not the speed that makes this particular machine so impressive.

To accommodate personalization fields on letters, most printing processes will have to run a piece through twice.  They print a standard shell, then run through with the variations.  With this particular printer, the piece runs through just once, printing all of the custom elements and standard elements at the same time.  This is actually how the company got its name — all of the customization is done inline on a single press.  This process results in time and cost savings for the customer (you!)

Actually the folks at Inline find a variety of ways to make mailing more efficient and cost effective for their customers.  They work with commercial and nonprofit organizations, mostly in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but can work with customers nationwide. If your organization is sending out at least 20,000 pieces, you can take advantage of the unlimited personalization this special press offers. For more information, contact Chris Smith at 817-640-1984.

Take Action with Your Next Mailing

With these three strategies, your group really has no excuse not to personalize fundraising letters and other communications.  If you are already doing this, maybe one or more of these strategies will help you take your efforts to the next level.

So what do you think?  Post a comment below how you’re using personalization in your mailings or how you will use one of these strategies in the future.

Posted on 10 September 2009

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