Are You a Purveyor of Junkmail?

Is your organization sending out junkmail? If so, shame on you. You are in the wrong profession. Before you send your resume to McDonald’s, let me clarify: Junkmail is any mail from any sender that’s irrelevant, annoying, or just plain stupid. It’s a subjective perception. Junkmail is often received. But it should never, ever be sent.

Here’s a quick way to see whether or not you’re guilty of sending junkmail. Check any of these statements you agree with:

  • Our mail annoys our donors.
  • I wish we didn’t have to ask for funds.
  • Direct mail is a terrible thing—I wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have to.

If you checked any of the above, you are probably sending junkmail. You have an attitude against direct-mail fundraising that is self-destructive—and probably self-fulfilling. Your mail is junk before it reaches your donors’ hands. It’s junkmail before it even rolls off the presses. Now, check any of the statements below that you agree with

  • Our mail delights our donors.
  • Asking our donors for funds is a service to them.
  • Direct mail isn’t perfect, but communicating with donors is great!

If you checked any of the above, there’s a good chance you are not a junkmailer. And your thinking is in line with the large majority of your donors’.

Anything you send to any donor has the potential to be perceived as junkmail. Maybe there’s too much other stuff in her mail that day. Maybe she just got some bad (or good) news that crowds out your message. Maybe the color of your envelope is the same as the color of her third grade classroom, where she suffered at the hands of a mean teacher.

No matter how brilliant and on-target your message, it will transform into junkmail for someone. If you use direct mail to raise funds, get used to it. You can minimize it by being smart about timing, being careful about whom you mail to, being relevant with your message, and having great creativity. But you can’t avoid it entirely.

The good news is—assuming you are doing a half-way decent job with your direct mail—you are sending out a lot of mail that’s interesting, delightful, and life-affirming to a lot of donors. Not junkmail at all. In fact, your mail is a great service to your donors in many ways.

And that’s where we get back to you and your career choice. If you are sending junkmail—that is, if you think your direct mail fundraising is irrelevant, annoying, or just plain stupid—you need to rethink your career. Because your attitude is leading you to make bad decisions that will only increase the chances of your mail being received as junkmail. And that’s where it counts. Do your donors, your organization, and the entire nonprofit community a favor: find a different job. You’ll be doing yourself a favor too—clearly you can’t be enjoying your work if you take such a low view of it.

On the other hand, if you can say with pride and conviction, “Our donors love our mail!” you are on the path to personal and organizational success.

Jeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world. He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.

Copyright © 2008 Stanford University Center for Social Innovation