Starting a direct marketing program

There really is no reason not to have some form of direct marketing program. Strong use of, at the very least, email can lead to incremental revenues for your organization and deepen the ties that your supporters have to you. But jumping in with both feet can be extremely expensive for your organization and hurt your ability to fulfill your mission.

So how should you start? Blackbaud counsels you in their guide:

“The best way for your organization to tell if it is direct marketing-ready is to conduct a feasibility study with a proven direct marketing strategist. You wouldn’t launch a capital campaign or any major change in strategy without first consulting the experts in this area; the same should be said for direct marketing.”

So obviously you don’t want to do that.

Seriously. Don’t do that.

This is for a few reasons:

  • It will be expensive, just for the consultant.
  • Asking a direct marketing consultant whether you should do a direct marketing program is like asking your seven-year-old daughter if you should get a pony. (Yes, this is a gender-based stereotype. I base this solely on my own daughter, who would answer very much in the affirmative.) It is in their best interest for you to take your entire reserves and start acquiring donors every channel. For example, did you know that Blackbaud, who recommends you hire a direct marketing consultant, provides direct marketing consultants?This is not to pick on Blackbaud. (OK, maybe a little.) But while almost all consultants of my acquaintance are too professional to start spending your second mortgage on list rentals and will try to recommend a reasonable approach, they don’t necessarily have the entire view of your organization and competing priorities in mind.
  • You don’t need one. You can start a direct marketing program on the cheap and learn many of the things you need to know for a full-scale program without a consultant.

One of our mantras here is going to be to test everything – fire bullets, then cannonballs. Or it would be if we were to start having mantras. You will likely eventually need an agency and they can be a great creative and strategic partner. And you are going to make mistakes at first, but better than you are making the mistakes yourself than paying someone else to make them.

So let’s start with testing and let’s start with free. For acquisition, look at what you have around you already. You probably have lists already – people who you’ve served, alumni, gala attendees, walkers, open house attendees, whatever. These are all warm leads – people already pre-disposed to supporting you.

For there, develop your online warm lead acquisition machine. Do you have white papers, tip sheets, pledges, petitions, or any other online interactions? Ask for an email address and permission. Then, start pushing people to those pages, through smart use of search engines and Google Grants.

Now, start up your email newsletter. It need not be fancy. But it needs to be about what the donors and volunteers are making possible. And then it can also be about what additional support can do for the mission.

This skips over a few key things for your free start to direct marketing:

So, we have our marching orders for the rest of the week, with a post on each. Thanks for reading!

PS. If you still think you need a consultant, let me know. I’ll be inexpensive and I can pad this blog post to well over 50 pages, assuming I can add in some charts and graphs.

Starting a direct marketing program

Hello world. Here’s why I’m writing…

I started this site to have a conversation about direct marketing for nonprofits. There are precious few of us who do this as a vocation and avocation and yet we often share only at conferences. Even then, it became death by PowerPoint with your notes making little sense when you get back to your desk.

Additionally, there are great and passionate advocates for our industry – many of whom I will link to and praise when possible – but few who start at the nuts and bolts level, explaining terms as they go. This will be an attempt to do so.

My goal is to structure this like the New York Times crossword – Mondays will be the simplest and they will get to progressively more complex content throughout the week. And I’ll try to make it hew to a theme for each week.

If you want more information on any topic, let me know in the comments, or you can email me here. I want to hear what would be helpful for you. Most of these topics are fractal-ish; in working on the first post on whether you need a direct marketing program, I mention online acquisition, which can bring up Google Grants, which can bring up keyword selection, which can get to negative keywords, and so on. I want to get as general or as specific as you want.

If you want to keep abreast of these, you can sign up for a weekly digest of these posts at the right. And I’ll try to keep some email only content aside just for subscribers.

What’s the business model for this? Don’t know yet if there will be any business model. Mostly, I want to help increase your knowledge and my own. Happy reading and please let me know your thoughts!

Hello world. Here’s why I’m writing…