Sadly, when it comes to direct mail acquisition the deck is stacked against small organizations; especially those with a regional or local mission focus.

The main question they face: How to get enough quality/responsive names to build a donor base?

Traditionally, there just aren’t that many donor names available for exchange or rental from other organizations in that geographic area.

Fortunately, there’s hope – the use of predictive analytics to build productive and high-yield, high-retention acquisition programs.

Tom and I often worry that many of the techniques we cover too often apply only to mid-sized and large organizations with the budgets and expertise to take advantage of new trends and technologies, especially when it comes to acquisition.

So, last week I reached out to Ann Monnig one of the few veteran consultants I know who has devoted a good part of her career to not only serving larger organizations, but also to applying cutting-edge techniques to the task of growing small organizations.

I asked Ann what her experience had been with using acquisition models for small organizations and whether or not that approach was successful.

Bingo! Ann clearly documented what I suspected: that for a small, local nonprofit it was nearly impossible to build a prospecting campaign using standard donor response lists in either the rental or exchange market … but successful modeled lists can be built.

As a case in point she cited her experience with The Potomac Conservancy [ ] a mid-Atlantic land trust and advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the watershed along the Potomac River. Not only has Ann made modeled acquisition names work, they have replaced conventional response lists, so that today 93% of the prospects in the Conservancy’s acquisition program come from modeled lists.

Here are some results that should make you sit up and take notice:

  • Not only are response rates from modeled lists a bit higher than from response lists (.77% vs. .65%), but the average gift is substantially higher ($57 vs. $40);
  • Retention rates as good or better from the modeled names than from conventional donor lists;
  • Modeled lists produce between 20% and 40% “multis”—meaning a month later you can mail these multiple prospects a second and productive mailing.
  • Perhaps best of all, the use of prospecting models has given The Potomac Conservancy a far larger pool of prospects from which to draw support.

Of course it’s not all gravy. Ann explained that there are a variety of modeling approaches that should be tested … there is resistance from some list brokers that has to be overcome … and of course, for a small organization there is a general reticence on the part of the modeling firms to take on small organizations. She overcame all that.

The models that have proved most successful in Ann’s work are those built using cooperative databases. This means that organizations participating in the modeling process put their names into a common pool and then the collective data involving literally hundreds of millions of transactions are used to build the model for a specific organization.

Two companies that model using cooperative databases are Wiland Direct and Blackbaud’s Target Analytics. The cost? Generally, at or below the cost of renting conventional donor response lists.

What’s your experience with modeled acquisition lists? While we wait to hear from other Agitator readers, we’re giving Ann Monnig an Agitator raise.


This article was posted in: Direct mail, Donor acquisition, Fundraising analytics / data.
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