Quick Thought: Charity Gaffes Illustrate Why Direct Mail Doesn't Make Sense

If you earned $56 million over a three-year period, would you pay $60 million to a direct-mail marketing firm in the same span of time? Didn’t think so. But that’s exactly what Disabled Veterans National Foundation – a D.C.-based charity that provides grants to disabled ex-servicemen and -women – did.

DVNF’s direct-mail marketing binge wasn’t just a poor use of resources – it led to the organization’s tax-exempt status being audited by the Senate, CNN reports. And, as the news company notes, DVNF isn’t the only non-profit to have sunk millions of donor dollars into direct mail. Another veterans charity, National Veterans Foundation, spent more than $18 million on direct-mail marketing as it took in $22 million.

At issue, ultimately, is the charities’ unwavering belief in the power of direct mail to boost revenue. Universities are similarly profligate when it comes to direct mailings; how many appeals does the average college grad receive each year from his/her alma mater’s advancement office?

But DVNF and NVF – and all the schools that flood alums’ mailboxes with donation requests – are mired in outdated thinking. Several decades ago, direct mail was one of the very best ways to reach consumers in their homes. Now, though, physical mail is on its way out; mail volume peaked in 2006 and has been declining ever since.

Moreover, consumers today are far less receptive to any kind of direct marketing than was the case a generation ago. Today, people actively seek engagement with their favorite brands; any marketing message that effectively tries to bull-rush its way into people’s field of vision is going to be ignored (or lead people to shun a brand entirely).

So if you’re thinking about what kind of marketing will provide the highest ROI and the greatest engagement, think new and different – Facebook, Twitter, blogging, PPC, superfan programs and so on. As DVNF and NVF learned, direct mail is a major waste of time and money.

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