Direct Mail Fundraising – Are You Unknowingly Frustrating Your Donors?

Recently a prospective client made a second visit to our facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, to do a deeper dive into our capabilities and how we’d handle the nonprofit organization’s direct mail responses.  As part of that process we asked the Director of Development to bring samples of their primary direct mail packages to review.

We spent about 90 minutes going through each package, looking at the reply coupons and return envelopes.  Most of the focus was on the reply coupons…where the scan line was placed, how it was structured, and other data that would need to be captured.  However, we also spent some time looking at what was involved in placing the reply document into the return envelope.  We did this, because as a processor of more than 40 million direct mail donation responses annually  for more than 165 nonprofits, we’ve seen an increase in the use of glued-edge and self sealing envelopes. These often require the donor to fold the reply device awkwardly to place it into the envelope.

Our reason for focusing on these “in-line” type of direct mail packages was to highlight for the prospect some of the challenges we face in efficiently processing these types of responses.  But as we went through the motions that a donor would follow in placing the reply coupon into the return envelope of these glued edge envelopes we realized another thing…the additional effort that is entailed and how difficult it can be to get the coupon into the envelope.  When you remember that the average age of a donor is well into the seventies for most organizations, many perhaps with arthritis or limited vision, you realize that the challenges for these donors to “stuff the envelope” are even greater.

There is a lot of discussion about meeting the donors’ needs and making their experience with the nonprofit a positive one so they will be more likely to keep giving.  When it comes to direct mail, there is a great deal of effort that goes into creating and testing packages that will elicit the highest response rate and largest average gift.  Maybe more thought needs to go into what the donor experience is when actually responding to a direct mail package.

Has anyone ever tested the impact of glued envelopes on response rates and average gift?  If so, please share your results.  If not, maybe it would be worthwhile to do so.  These packages are becoming more prevalent because they are cheaper from an upfront production standpoint, but are they perhaps hurting the net dollars raised?  Please share your thoughts and any related experiences.

P.S. In case anyone is curious, I’m happy to report that the prospective client is now a client!