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Direct Mail in a Changing World

By Jean M. Simmons

Most everyone has mixed feelings about direct mail fundraising. We all receive too much of it ― whole forests worth ― it sometimes seems. And we’re increasingly hip to all the tricks: the “urgent stamp,” the promise of a “free gift inside” and so on. But despite the competition in the mailbox, direct mail is still a cost-effective way to reach individuals who might not otherwise hear of my organization, Catholic Relief Services.

Direct mail involves much more than simply sending out a bunch of letters: we must choose the right mailing lists, design and write an attractive ― but not too flashy ― appeal, have it printed, packaged and mailed. On average, 5 – 6 percent of them will be opened and returned with a donation to CRS.  We strive to evoke the correct tone within the mailing package, sharing with the reader the scope of the problem and why our organization is well-placed to help solve it. We share a story or two to hopefully capture the reader’s heart and mind, and show how they can help. Many CRS donors who are initially engaged via direct mail become long-term contributors and major donors for just the initial cost of some staff time, paper and a stamp.

The goal of the Annual Giving team within Catholic Relief Services is to cultivate and inform donors in a responsible way about the plight of the poor overseas, while strengthening our relationship and raising private revenue to fulfill CRS’ mission. We strive to maintain good stewardship, communicate accountability, provide service to our donors by adhering to their requests and ensure the confidentially of donor records.

What does the future hold for direct mail… that remains to be seen, but today, direct mail continues to be a very cost effective way for CRS to raise critical funds for our operations overseas.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________Jean M. Simmons is the Director of Annual Giving at Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community. CRS alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.