The short answer to this question is “no”.
But, many will miss this because we personally (as marketers) don’t like getting direct mail and probably are cynical in our responses to it. This bias leads us astray from recognizing the particular advantages of this medium. We delude ourselves that email and social media will take the place of this ancient vehicle of communication because we relish the new and the innovative.
The problem is that our donors don’t think like we do. And groups act differently than any one individual in that group thinks.
The United States Postal Service had revenues of $68.8 Billion in 2015 and that number has stayed rather steady since 2009 (after a drop in revenue associated with the economic downtown in 2007-2008).
In 2015, USPS handled 80 Billion pieces of advertising material. Are all of the organizations and businesses sending through the mail kidding themselves? I don’t think so.
A significant portion of that mail is non-profit direct mail. In fact, 91% of nonprofits are using direct mail. Out of those using direct response, 54% saw an increase from 2014 to 2015.
The real answer to the question “Is Direct Mail Dead?” is “No because bottom line: it works!”
The question we should be asking is, “What is direct mail particularly good at? How can we play to those strengths?”
Direct mail has powerful things working in its favor:
Getting a hand written note (especially a thank you note) in the mail is so much more powerful than an email. Part of this is nostalgic and retro but that nostalgia is rooted in the notion that people today don’t take the time to write notes. Mired in our daily lives driven by insta-communication, when you do take the time to send mail, it’s noticed.
Everyone understands what mail is. We all know the conventions of how to fold the letter, address it, use the stamp, how to check the mailbox, etc. New media like text-to-give and various online giving platforms can be baffling, especially to the very elderly. Mail also allows us to form a visual brand that makes the donors feel comfortable giving because they feel they know that organization and trust has been built.
With all of the various information breaches these days, many donors feel that writing a check and sending it through the mail is more secure. The USPS is still a trusted entity protected by laws that forbid tampering with the mail. This reassures donors.
Although it is much more difficult to personalize than a phone call, direct mail can be highly informative. You can write a long and detailed letter and include points of pride on the back of the letter. You can include buck slips with more information for very little cost. A donor can, after absorbing your direct mail, feel like they have learned a good deal about your mission and organization.
You can hold a letter in your hand. You can keep it in a file for years. If an angry donor sends a copy of the letter with a complaint written on it to your director, it has much more weight and seriousness than a forwarded email with a complaint. Part of the power of direct mail is the same power as real books and real magazines. People like to hold something in their hands other than mobile phone or kindle.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.