Life Cycle of a Direct Mail
By Leslie Mandel
The Rich List Company
The life cycle of a Direct Mail Campaign begins with a strategy
- a plan. This can be visually represented on an xcel sheet where the
elements of your campaign and the timetable over which you will implement
them can be viewed simultaneously. The rows across represent your activities
and the columns underneath the cost of the activities and perhaps the
individual(s) conducting them. This plan can be developed anywhere from
six weeks to 12 months prior to the date you plan to send your direct
mail and has four distinct elements; lists, mailing, results and donor
recognition. These elements and some of the strategies that attend them
are discussed below.
1. The Mail Date: This date will give you the time frame within which
all the elements of the mailing must be accomplished.
2. Size of the Mailing: Decide how large your mailing will be. Here are
some mail statistics to keep in mind: Responses to direct mail average
1 to 2 percent. For example, if you mail 10,000 names you can expect 100
to 200 responses. If you phone the list as well you may increase donations
100 percent. Using the above example if 10,000 names were mailed and phoned
2 to 4 percent or 200 to 400 responses can be expected. List owners normally
charge 1.5 times the base price of the mail list for the second usage
of phoning and charge for the phone number as well. For example if the
mail list charge is $100/ thousand names the phone usage is $50 and the
cost of the phone numbers is$20/ thousand. The total cost for mailing
and telemarketing the list would be $170/ thousand names. The size of
the mailing will determine other costs such as paper, envelopes, staff
and so on.
3. Choosing the right list and from whom to order it is entered in the
next column. There are approximately 50,000 lists available on the market
and experts agree that 60 percent of the success of your direct mail campaign
consists of choosing the right list to mail. How do you find the right
list for your organization? Organizations such as Nextmark have free downloadable
software organizations can use that will acquaint them with the lists
that are available. Standard Rate And Data (www.srds.com)
is a publishing company that publishes a book on every list in the world.
They also list the List Managers, and which lists they manage, and the
list owner and which lists they own. One must pay to see the lists on
the Internet, which requires a password and user name. The MIN System
is completely different from SRDS, but does about the same; only they
are only online for the brokers to use. They charge a large fee to see
the same information that is on SRDS and NEXTMARK. All three are similar;
list owners will list their lists in all places available.
Most list owners also have websites, which can be found by searching on
the various Internet search engines. If one goes to www.richlist.com
and clicks on access direct mail source data cards, a list of lists will
appear which can be searched individually to obtain a particular list
cost, counts, and a general description. If one scrolls down one can also
obtain the usage, or who else has ordered the particular list.
Lists can also be ordered through list managers or the list broker with
whom you can consult about the lists available. A list Broker orders lists
for a client who mails, and gets paid a discount of 20 percent of the
price of the list. A List Manager makes a deal for a percentage of all
orders and they are the ones that print the data cards. If you order directly
from the list owner or manager, you will obtain the discount normally
paid to the list brokers, which is 20 percent.
The strategies that attend list selection are discussed briefly below:
a. Selects or demographics, which include such characteristics as gender,
age, income, homeowners, college graduates, geography, (such as state
and or zip code), are available at an extra cost per thousand names. Some
lists will not have phone numbers available of the demographics requested.
(This can be determined by a “clearance”, see below) The demographics
of your own in-house donor list (if you don’t know what they are
some investigation should be a top priority) should be matched to the
lists you order. For example, if your organization offers services to
children, and most of your donors are female, you may consider ordering
lists with only female names. Or if your organization offers services
to, the elderly, you might choose lists that donate to elderly causes,
or a list of donors who have elderly parents living with them.
b. Zip codes are another indicator of demographics. Zip codes are used
to break down mail for delivery. The first two digits indicate a particular
state, the third the SCF, which stands for Sectional Center Facility,
or the county or large city post office, the fourth digit to the local
post office the fifth to the mail box on the street, or local depots where
the postal worker picks up mail. The plus four digits deliver the mail
directly to the particular individual home. The SCF is the smallest zip
code segment, which organizations may wish to target for mailing. For
example, if you are a synagogue with a particular zip code, you may wish
to mail an appeal to all of the list names in the same SCF. The famous
television show 90210 illustrates how well zip codes correlate with demographics
such as income level; most of us recognize the population living in Beverly
Hills California as high-income households.
c. The origin of a list also influences who uses it. Many charities rent
out their list of donors to other charities or commercial mailers. An
investigation of the origin of the lists may provide you with clues as
to where the list came from and if the lists are being rented by charities
with similar goals to your organization; it may be worthwhile to rent
them over another.
d. The quantity of each list. Keep in mind that each list will require
a minimum order of 5,000 names. Sometimes a list owner will allow an order
as small 1,000 names from 5 different lists as long as the total is 5,000
names. If a charity has mailed before and knows a particular list works
well, meaning brings in a high number of responses, they may want to order
all the names available on that list and less from other lists they have
never tested. Testing a list generally means using it for the first time.
Continuation of a list means the list was tested, brought in good results,
and is ordered again or continued.
e. Email lists generally produce 6 to 10 percent responses, but are more
costly than traditional mailing lists. For example a regular mail list
may cost $75/thousand names where an email list can cost anywhere from
$1-500/thousand email addresses. Properly written subject lines, should
prevent your emails from being considered spam. Email lists and text messaging
cell phone numbers are never provided to the renter, the renter provides
the copy to go out and the email and test messaging owners send out the
copy and provide statistics on how often the message has been viewed.
On test messaging to cell phones, a WAP push link will allow responders
to directly email you back. Email lists and text messaging lists should
be marked double ‘opt in’ which means the email address from
each name has been approved to receive mail. Additionally list owners
will not rent to traditional spammers. Due to U.S. privacy laws email
and text messaging lists usually do not provide the usage.
4. The third column indicates whether to phone the list names. Additionally
whether staff or volunteers make the calls and the cost of hiring additional
callers if necessary.
5. The fourth column indicates the number of in-house donors (if any)
that you will mail at the same time. Your in-house donor list will need
to be merged/purged with the lists you are renting. If you are using multiple
lists each rented list must be merged/purged from the other rented lists,
so there are not duplications in your solicitation. Professional services,
called ‘letter shops’ in the U.S., do this for you. These
services are discussed in detail further below.
6. List costs are entered in the next column. List cost is based on price
per thousand. For example 5,000 names, which is usually a minimum order,
might be $100/ thousand, or $500 total cost. Telephone numbers might be
$20/extra per thousand. Selects or demographics such as gender age, income,
homeowners, college graduates, geography and so on will be extra per thousand
names each. Shipping also is an extra cost. The majority of lists are
now mostly shipped by email for a fee of $50. If you need pressure sensitive
labels, or Cheshire labels, there is a cost/label and ground or overnight
shipping cost. Discounts are based on price per thousand only, not on
the selects. There is no discount on the extra charges for demographics
or phone numbers. There are also volume discounts for orders over 50,000
or 100,000 names. Mailing and telemarketing lists are provided to the
renter for one time use only, unless unlimited usage is requested. The
cost for unlimited usage is normally double the base price.
All of these elements will be printed on the individual data card for
each list. The data card is menu from which one chooses which lists to
order. The data card includes the price of the list, the number of names
available on the particular list, a written description of the composition
of the list, its origin, and who else ordered the list in the past, called
7. List Payment Date should be entered for each list ordered. Depending
on the vendor, payment for lists may be wanted in advance, before shipment,
or 30 to 60 days after the mailing is sent. Traditionally all telemarketing
orders, political mailers and commercial mailers are asked to pay in advance.
8. Send clearances to the list owner or manager is entered in the next
column. This form is sent to the list owner or manager requesting: 1.
The date of your mailing (in order not to conflict with a possible list
owner’s mailing. For example some, charities that sell their own
lists may not want the “renter” of the list to mail on the
same date. Charities can make up to one dollar per name renting out their
lists to other charities or commercial mailers, an income that goes directly
to their bottom line. Some charities do not want their board of directors
to know they are renting out their list, so the list is given a name different
than the name of the charity. Some lists may have dozens of charities
wanting to use the list on the same date.
In addition to requesting a particular mail date and approval of the sample
letter, the clearance may request counts, which is a request for the statistics
of each characteristic or “select,” requested. For example,
how many women over age 50 with incomes over $50,000 in NY state or in
a specific zip code. (The data card will only give you the total number
of names it has available on a particular list.) Sometimes the clearance
will request how recently the list was updated or cleaned.
There are other reasons for sending a clearance form: It offers list owners
the opportunity to approve of the renter or the renter’s letter.
Many times a sample letter of the renter is sent along with the clearance
and often also the 501 c 3 letters from the IRS, proving the charity is
9. The next column should track the following activities: 1) the clearance
has been returned 2) the list has been ordered and 3) the lists have arrived.
Each potential donor will receive a letter in an envelope, which contains
a reply card and reply envelope, sometimes also a brochure.
10. The Letter: In the next column indicate who is to write, proof and
print it and the printing cost. You may wish to “test” two
different letters, mailing one to half of a given list, and another to
the other half, coding the reply cards to indicate which letter went to
which name. After the mailing, whichever letter produces the highest return
would determine which letter is used in future mailings.
11. The envelope internal reply card and reply card envelope. Under this
column indicate who is to write, proof, and print it and the printing
costs. You will need to decide on a ‘teaser’ on the bottom
left hand corner of the outside envelope and who is to write it. A teaser
is a one-line description of your appeal, such as “Help these children”,
or “Fight cancer”.
12. The Brochure: Whether to include one or not, who is to write, proof
and print it and its printing cost.
13. Addressing the mailing (envelope, reply envelope and reply card).
There are three options:
1. Hand written 2. Pressure sensitive labels, or Cheshire labels 3. Printing
names directly on each piece.
I recommend using a letter shop to print the names directly on all three
pieces to enable you to better track donors. Another reason for using
letter shop is the other, additional services they provide:
1. Printing the letters. 2. Merge/purging the lists for duplications.
(some charities will request that all multidonors, or names that appeared
on more than one list be mailed at another time for no cost. This is another
element that would be asked for on the clearance or even later on the
purchase order for a particular list). 3. Collating all the elements of
the mailing; a. stuffing envelops b. sorting zip codes c. delivery it
to the post office.
14. Postage/Bar Codes. Most letter shops have an indicia or postage mark
that allows payment for only the number of outside envelopes mailed and
only for the 1 to 2 percent of the responses to the mailing. When the
printer/letter shop has indicia they will normally let you use this printed
number (which goes where the traditional stamp goes on the envelope).
The letter shop pays the post office and bills for the postage amount.
Furthermore, most letter shops have the software to bar code each envelope,
which results in. far cheaper postal rate than just the non-profit rate.
Having a letter shop use their updated programs for bar coding and the
indicia usually is far cheaper than using both volunteers and a postage
stamp. Check with your post office to know if they have such a method
of payment. In the USA, charities can get their own indicia for about
$75/ year plus the postage. With the size of the mailing decided above
you can then cost out the postage, printing and mailing costs.
Depending on the country in which your mailing is mailed you can expect
most contributions to come within six weeks of your mail date. However
if contributions are tax deductible, some donors may hold your mail piece
and donate just before the end of the year. Of the responses to your solicitation
25 percent will continue to donate year after year or even more than once
a year. Each donor who responds to your campaign will now be the organization’s
donor – hopefully to donate over the long term.
When the checks or credit card donations clear the bank you indicate in
yet another column by each list ordered how many donations the particular
list elicited and the total ‘list’ donation. The list selected
for the next mailing should be chosen based on ‘performance’
i.e. those that generate both the highest number of responses and income.
IV Donor Recognition
Most charities automatically generate a thank you letter to the donor.
Recently, charities have been requesting the donor’s email address
and emailing a thank you. The cost to the charity then is only its staff
or volunteer time. Whether or not the donor will appreciate this will
depend on how much this method becomes the customary method of thanks.
After, you have completed the above activities, the life cycle of your
Direct Mail Campaign has ended and then, you begin again.