Lists and Prospecting: Nonprofit Mailers Share Outlook for 2004

Nonprofit catalog mailers share many of the same concerns as for-profit catalogers when it comes to lists and prospecting. But nonprofits also have unique issues, particularly regarding the overlap of donor and catalog buyer names in their databases.

Here, several nonprofit catalogers and list professionals discuss their top needs and concerns when it comes to building, managing, and marketing their catalog lists.
Paul Miller

Bill McCarthy is CEO of Southwest Indian Foundation, a Gallup, NM-based philanthropic organization that helps needy Native Americans.

Our sales have grown every year for the past 12 years, and all things being equal our cautious optimism dictates that we’ll grow again this year. But we’re trying to grow organically with the least amount of pain — to mail less and make more.

Last year we tested segmenting prospecting lists. In the past we would mail 100% of the names from the lists we’d rent. Now we’ll mail only, say, 80% of the names from the lists we rent and trim the fat from them. But we needed to test this first because we had to make sure that the data-processing costs associated with segmenting didn’t outweigh the benefits.

The philanthropic catalog lists always do very well for us, particularly those that deal with culture, history, novelties, and collectibles. About 15% of the names we rent for prospecting come from other nonprofits — catalog lists, donor lists, and combinations of both from which we segment out the catalog buyers. But we prospect mostly from for-profit lists because they have the larger circulations, as well as some people with cash.

In addition to renting lists, we do cross-membering: Through a co-op database we model our names against another mailer’s names and might grab, say, 20,000 out of their 100,000-name list, and they’ll do the same.

For 2004 we’ll have 10 mailings with four versions in which we’ll replace 30%-40% of our product line. We’ll mail 14 million-19 million catalogs for the year, compared with about 14 million in 2003.

Diana Snyder is marketing director of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a Reston, VA-based member-supported conservation group.

We’ll take a hard look at reactivating old customers more aggressively this year than last year. We need to look at growing this universe in a more cost-effective way.

We look to cross-mail to the NWF’s donors when it makes sense. We model our catalog list against the donor file to try to find catalog buyers, because there’s always some portion of the file that will be interested in catalog shopping. We certainly don’t avoid mailing catalogs to donors.

As for renting out our catalog buyer file, I anticipate greater revenue this year, because we’ve added some demographic enhancements such as age, occupation, and whether they are pet owners and have an affinity to animals. We didn’t have this available before in renting our list.

Tammy Kersey is director of retail and direct marketing for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a historical museum in Williamsburg, VA.

We have a lot of donors who are also catalog buyers, and the idea of renting their names out to other companies is something we’ve gone back and forth with for years. As for now, we maintain our list for rental separate from our entire house file. So when other mailers are looking at counts of our 12-month buyer file, it excludes donors.

When we prospect, we rent only the names of customers who have purchased from catalogs. Donor files are offered separately from catalog buyer files, and we don’t do anything with them.

William Coffey is deputy director of marketing for Winterthur Museum, a Winterthur, DE-based organization dedicated to preserving the estate of antiques collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont.

We’re going deeper into our house file to reactivate people or add to the lifetime value of specific customers in our database. We have full access to our museum donor file, but we don’t use it, because of privacy considerations. We don’t want donors to feel we’re using their names and invading their privacy.

On the other hand, we do use our general membership list. Most join our membership list for perks such as preferred treatment for exhibitions and events held at our museum, for restaurant offers, and to receive our catalog.

Overall, the prospecting we do will be level with last year.

Chris Ragusa is president of Estee Marketing Group, a list firm based in New Rochelle, NY, and a certified fundraising executive.

Plenty of nonprofit catalogers can benefit from using co-op databases or trying to find different sources than regular catalog response lists. Renting the names of donors from other organizations can work, but the nonprofit catalog buyer is first and foremost a catalog buyer.

Nonprofit catalogers generally can’t cross over to a list that’s simply a straight appeal donor and try to sell them merchandise, even though such lists may be worth testing. Donors often expect nothing in return, so they display a different behavior from donors who are also catalog buyers.

Neal Denton is executive director of Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, a Washington-based industry association serving nonprofit organizations.

Many nonprofit mailers are finding success in attracting prospects through electronic communications — Web-based subscriptions, donations, or queries from their Websites. Some of our more successful colleagues are very excited about the growth of their younger donor files through the Web.

We’ve had stable postal rates for two years, and that will continue through 2006, so that makes for more fertile opportunities for prospecting. But when I talk to some of my board members, they’re more excited about experimenting with electronic communications.

Jinny Fleischman is president of VMF, a Washington-based marketing consulting firm that assists nonprofits.

One of the great things about nonprofits is that they have a reason to communicate to people on many levels. And often they haven’t worked as hard to bring in non-catalog buyers that have some involvement with the organization. So they might have the ability to mine their internal database to find what they already have in other facets of their organization.

Nonprofit catalogers should look at all points of contact with their potential customers. The catalog divisions can look to get their catalogs or catalog request offers in seminar offers, travel kits, and publications that the organization sends out. They could even enclose catalog-request forms in thank-you notes.

Consumer Catalog List Sizes on the Rebound

Another sign of an economic turnaround: According to New York-based brokerage services firm ParadyszMatera, the number of 12-month consumer catalog buyers grew 4.1% between Oct. 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2003. That’s a reversal of a 2.1% decline from the previous 12-month period.

As of this past September, according to ParadyszMatera, an estimated 169.2 million Americans had bought from consumer catalogs during the previous 12 months. The firm tracked quarterly 12-month buyer counts on key consumer catalog files that had active files available for rental or exchange.

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