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Direct Mail Alive and Well—For Now

(June 23, 2008) A recent survey shows that older donors (age 60 and older) respond to direct mail solicitations at similar levels to what they did in 1995, indicating that a new generation of donors has picked up where previous donors in this age group left off.

Whether future generations will respond equally well to direct mail as they get older is yet to be determined, note the researchers. “Online solicitations have not significantly hurt direct mail as of yet,” said marketing consultant Charles Pruitt of The A.B. Data Group, based in New York City.

Pruitt and Mark Mellman, of The Mellman Group, Inc., also in New York, surveyed 1,200 donors to charities and politically progressive causes to determine what method of solicitations were effective for people of different age groups and demographics.

One important lesson, according to Pruitt and Mellman, is that fundraisers should continue to emphasize direct mail despite the growth of online donation methods. They found that those donors who respond to direct mail are not active online. Yet nonprofits should not rule out their online efforts, as those who give online prefer this method strongly over writing a check by hand.

Apples and Oranges

Pruitt and Mellman say that direct mail and online donors are like apples and oranges in that they have a strong preference for their mode of giving. Respondents who say they respond to direct mail most of the time send a check in response to a direct mail piece 81 percent of the time and use online methods only 22 percent of the time. Online donors respond frequently to email solicitations, as well as website and blog appeals, but send a check in response to direct mail only about 33 percent of the time.

Similarly, whereas direct mail donors rely on offline sources such as newspapers, television news and advertisements for information and perspectives about charities, online donors rely on email and websites.

The research also shows that donors are spontaneous, flexible and reactive and do not seem to make set plans ahead of time for their giving, said Pruitt. Only 23 percent of direct mail donors and 6 percent of online donors said they carefully plan out their donations each year in advance. The number of people who said they strike a balance between planning and being flexible and spontaneous was 32 percent for direct mail and 47 percent for online donors. The survey returned similar results for those who say they are very open-minded about their giving decisions (38 percent of direct mail donors) and 42 percent of online donors).

Reasons for Donating Online

Online donors said that convenience was the most important reason why they donated online instead of by other means. The second most popular reason was that they could use their credit card.

Other reasons included following a link sent by an organization they trusted, browsing the organization’s website, and donating the moment the thought hit them. Finally, people said they donated online because the money would get there faster than by phone or mail donation.

The study was released during the AFP New York Chapter’s Fund Raising Day in New York on June 13.

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