Looking for Evidence of USPS Delays in Direct Mail

Membership, direct mail

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U.S. postal delays are in the news and causing many stations to wonder if direct mail delivery has been or will be affected.

Greater Public has operated its direct mail acquisition list co-operative and direct mail production collaborative for 13 years. During these years we’ve tracked the arrival time for every single mailing we’ve ever sent. We do this by adding “seeds” to each mailing.  A seed is the name and address of one of our team members (slightly misspelled, for example) that is added to each and every mailing list used to produce a station's mailing.  Receipt of our seeds is confirmation of the delivery date of the mailing.

This history of tracking arrival times has given us reliable, longitudinal data on when direct mail can be expected to arrive, and when to be concerned if it’s delayed or hasn't arrived at all.

Due to the volume of our mailings, Standard Mail rates are the most economical and average 3 to 10 business days or as many as 14 days from send date to arrival date. Sometimes mailings arrive in one-and-a-half weeks, sometimes in two-and-a-half weeks. We can request a USPS investigation if the mailing has not arrived within three weeks.

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Staying Donor-Centered in a Time of Upheaval

Membership, direct mail, email, COVID

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In the last few weeks, each of us has made a complete pivot in all aspects of our lives. In our work, that dramatic shift has upended the even the most detailed annual donor plans, requiring that everyone (including us at Greater Public!) rethink and rewrite scripts, letters, and acknowledgement copy. 

What we must not forget is to keep donors front and center in all these adjustments. It can be easy to drift inward and focus on what we need. But when we focus on donors, the framework is always “what you make possible.”

In workshops, I often tell attendees to take off their development hats, and put on their donor hats. Then I ask the following questions: Who are the donors? What do they care about? Why do they use (listen/read/view) this particular station? I invite you to recreate this exercise with your team, adding “In the face of this pandemic…..”

There are three main principles to remember in order to keep copy donor-centered:

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The Best Ways to Personalize Your Fiscal-Year-End Mail and Email Campaigns

Membership, direct mail, email

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As you finalize your station's fiscal-year-end mail and email campaigns, consider these best practices for effective appeals.

1. Keep the font in a readable size for older eyes. Keep the paragraphs indented and the margins wide.

2. Make sure your campaigns reflect your station! Highlight local content to connect more deeply with your listeners. 

3. Make your reply form clean, simple, and easy to fill out.

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Increase Donations Over Time With the Right Gift Ladders

Membership, direct mail, email

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Whether online or in the mail, the gift ladder is often one of the final items to be set before a campaign is launched. Or, in some cases, a gift ladder is the one thing that hasn’t been changed in years. But there is tested strategy behind how to encourage members to increase their donations over time.

It matters how your gift ladder is laid out, and what options you give prospective donors.

Here are seven strategies for building effective gift ladders:

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Three Ways to Improve Your Station’s Direct Mail Program

direct mail

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1: Are you sending enough direct mail?

It’s important to remember that the person who just donated is the one who’s most likely to donate again. Yet so often, stations shy away from truly maximizing revenue opportunity for fear of asking too much.

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Public Radio and TV Donors Expect to Give at Year-End

Membership, pledge drive, direct mail, scripts, calendar year-end

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A recent NPR station survey revealed some interesting trends in calendar year-end giving. Stations reported that year-end drives led to an increase in giving over the previous year, although the number of new members remained about the same.

Year-end giving should be a part of your station's annual individual giving strategy. People expect a little boldness from organizations at the end of the year. They can be asked to contribute... more than once. Strong, assertive year-end campaigns will stand out at this time of year and will get results.

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Fall Tools Turn Morning Edition Audience into Donor Dollars

Membership, pledge drive, direct mail, scripts

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Has your station been participating in NPR's Spark initiative to increase Morning Edition's AQH?

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mail Campaigns

Membership, direct mail

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Direct mail and email make up a crucial piece of any membership strategy. Here are seven things to keep in mind that will make your campaigns a success.

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Get Them and Keep Them: The TWO Pillars of Successful Membership

sustainers, Membership, pledge drive, direct mail

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There are nearly as many approaches to the details of an effective membership program as there are public media stations. But one thing stations with top-performing programs have in common is that they apply the full array of identified best practices when it comes to membership strategy and technique.

Many stations approach each technique in membership fundraising as if it were performing in isolation from the other techniques: How did our on-air drive perform? What was the response rate on that lapsed letter? What’s the growth rate on our sustainer program? But the long-term health of any one technique is intricately intertwined with the fundraising ecosystem as a whole.

From a long-term growth perspective, for stations where on-air fundraising is still the largest slice of the revenue pie, there is a point where the number of people willing to join as sustainers will begin to plateau. Growth will slow and increases in member numbers will begin to flatten again. We’re already seeing some of these effects as a number of stations with high percentages of sustainers on the file are having a difficult time reaching on-air revenue goals that were previously achievable.

Additionally, as we have all learned, sustainer programs are not foolproof. This revenue can be vulnerable to credit card breaches, requiring stations with large sustainer programs to develop deeper plans and to allocate staff and budgets towards managing sustainer churn, acquiring new payment information and attempting to move these donors over to electronic funds transfer, once again proving that no fundraising program is either free or a silver bullet.

While stations can (and should) intently focus on bringing as many donors onto the file over the air, particularly as sustainers, when it comes to new single-gift members joining the station, a central challenge to achieving healthy growth is the fact that typically only 30% or fewer of a station’s new on-air-acquired single-pay members will return for a second year of membership, and for many of them it will take either an expensive telemarketing phone call or another on-air premium to entice them back, leading to a cycle of member churn and high-cost fundraising.

This fact, of course, is why successful sustainer programs are so valuable to a healthy membership file today. These programs have given the system a way to make on-air fundraising a more viable activity from a net and long-term revenue standpoint.

But maximum program growth will still only occur when both pillars of “retention-positive” membership programs are fully functioning – sustained giving and acquisition mail. Indeed, the strongest and most efficient membership fundraising programs in public media today – defined as those with the largest member ranks – are diverse programs that maximize every technique available.

In fact, as we compare the basic retention curves of monthly giving; direct mail and email; and single-pay donors to on-air drives, it is clear that the retention path of direct mail and email acquired donors is a positive path. Indeed, at a number of stations, after 5+ years have passed, a higher percentage of mail-acquired donors remains on the file compared to sustainers acquired in the same year.

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The Long and Short of Eliminating Pledge Drives

sustainers, Membership, pledge drive, direct mail

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When North Country Public Radio set out to eliminate its on-air fundraiser, its listeners backed the idea wholeheartedly with money and praise. With just three hours of traditional pledge break pitching, the station raised $37,000 more in its fall 2014 drive than it did by interrupting five and a half days of programs the previous fall.

Compared to the fall 2013 drive, overall donors and new donors were down a bit and costs were down considerably in the station’s self-named "warp drive." Rejoins were up eight percent, sustainers were up 78 percent, and giving through the mail more than doubled, according to a station summary of the campaign.

North Country Public Radio was ready to continue its new approach and stations throughout the country were intrigued and eager to try the same.

Vermont Public Radio was among the first to jump on board. Their spring campaign, called “Eliminate the Pledge Drive,” met its goal without interrupting any programs. Compared to spring 2014, costs were down while new and rejoining donors, sustainer participation, and giving via mail and the web were up.

It’s not yet known whether these approaches minimized or prevented the tune-out associated with traditional on-air fundraising, but more than 90 percent of VPR listeners who responded to a station survey following its campaign said it was less disruptive than a traditional public radio pledge drive.

“Thank you very much for trying to eliminate the pledge drive,” said one listener who answered the survey. “It makes everything better. I hope we get there!”

VPR is ready to eliminate another drive and NCPR just completed round two.

In NCPR’s second round, the overall number of donors increased and even the number of new donors was up when compared with the previous spring drive. The station met its goal, but this time it needed two days and two hours of traditional pitching as opposed to the three hours of its first effort.

While this is still less than half the length of a traditional NCPR drive, the additional time needed to meet the goal inspires several important questions:

  • Would or could the station have seen an increase in the number of renewing donors and new donors without the two-plus days of interruptive pledge breaks?
  • Is the difference between the amounts of preemption in the fall and spring a reflection of how much harder it is to raise money in spring compared to fall (a reality experienced at many stations)?
  • Or is it an indication that eliminating or significantly reducing on-air fundraising isn’t sustainable, reflecting the collective experience of many stations that have experimented with silent drives in the past?
  • Is it a matter of continuing to tweak the process until public radio finds the right formula, a tricky puzzle given the many internal and external factors that play into the performance of a pledge drive?
  • And even if some stations achieve sustained success eliminating their drives, is this the approach right for every station?

Warp drives by that or any other name may not be the best strategic fit for stations to achieve optimal fundraising performance, which is to have as many contributors as can reasonably be expected given the station's audience. This is especially true for stations that rely on their pledge drives as their primary or only source of acquiring new donors.

Here’s why:

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