Terri Harel

This Millennial Says NO to Direct Mail: Here’s What You Can do to Win Her Back

A little over a year ago, a very close friend of mine lost his father to ALS. Everyone who has experienced the pain and frustration of ALS understands that it takes an incredible toll on a family – something I experienced firsthand when my cousin lost his father to the disease.

After receiving the news, the first thing I wanted to do was book a flight home to grieve with their family and pay my condolences. However, the reality of the situation was quick to set in. I couldn’t take time off from work with such short notice and booking a flight cross-country is an incredible expense. So, I decided to make an online donation to a nonprofit that funds research for ALS. It took me no more than 5 minutes and I requested that a letter of acknowledgement be sent to his family.

Having the ability to do all of this online within 24 hours of receiving this tragic news was monumental. I instantly felt less guilty about not being able to attend the funeral and I felt like I did something to show how much I cared. At the time if you had asked me if I would be interested in becoming a recurring donor, I think I would have said yes. I strongly supported the cause and the nonprofit’s work so why not? Plus it was incredibly easy for me to donate online.

Within two months, I started receiving A LOT more mail than usual. Mail from numerous nonprofits. Some brief context – unless it’s my birthday, a holiday, or a thank you note, I do not like to receive mail. I opt out of receiving paper statements for all of my bills, credit card statements, and pay stubs. When I do get mail, it is usually junk and I look at it for 5 seconds before tossing it.

It didn’t take me long to connect the dots that my information had been added to several different mailing lists that similar nonprofits use to elicit new donors. I was being inundated with donation and volunteer requests and instead of making me interested in learning more, I became more and more turned off and annoyed. It was even more frustrating that my information was shared so liberally throughout the nonprofit community.

Why did this marketing tactic put me off so much? There isn’t a black and white answer, but I believe a huge part of it has to do with my generation. I am part of the Millennial generation also known as Generation Y. Research shows that 97% of Generation Y members own a computer and 94% own a cell phone – indicating that we are an incredibly interconnected group.  Some of the “need-to know” trends in the 2013 Millennial Impact Report reveal Millennial’s preference to connect online through social channels, their reliance on peer influence, and desire to engage and interact with organizations.

Nonprofits have to start adjusting their mindsets in order to effectively market to Millennials. I already mentioned that I don’t like receiving mail and I am not alone. Tracy Lewis, senior consultant at PR 20/20 says, “I rarely see traditional advertising. Aside from bills and birthday cards, mail goes straight into the recycling bin.” Even on the off chance a Millennial opens a donation request, the likelihood of them being motivated to write a check is still very low.

When I decided to write about this topic, I started to save all the requests I received in the mail and actually sat down to read each one. I consistently felt like I was reading a formal press release printed on a branded piece paper. There was no engagement or visual appeals that typically catch my eye online. I was never inspired to reach for my checkbook and make a donation.

Did I just say reach for my check book? Well, that’s something I haven’t done in the past six months.  Since Millennials are often described as lazy, it can be assumed that the process of writing a check, buying stamps for an envelope, and sending it off in the mail takes way too much effort. Ryan Donegan, writer of the blog the Modern Millennial, elaborates on Millennials preference to purchase things online and the importance of having a simple payment process. He even jokes about how Millennials are lazy about entering their billing information.

According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Millennials send and receive email at least occasionally. So why don’t nonprofits replace their direct mail marketing campaigns with an email campaign? If I were to receive an engaging donation request in my inbox, the likelihood of me clicking through to the nonprofit’s website is a lot higher than me opening the mail. John Bonini, Marketing Director at Impact Branding & Design, LLC, makes a great point that reinforces this idea,

If you’re used to direct mail, I think you’ll find the easiest transition into more Millennial-friendly turf in email marketing. It’ll help promote new products or services in a similar way to direct mail — one piece of content for one person — but allows you to personalize your messaging more easily, and more efficiently, than personalized print marketing.

Blood:Water recently launched an email campaign that any Millennial would appreciate. Titled, “The Real Game of Thrones,” they took advantage of the ever-so popular HBO series and turned it into a creative campaign. The email itself wasn’t text heavy and the graphic design instantly grabbed your attention.

The goal of the campaign was to raise enough money to build 21 “thrones” (aka latrines) in Rwanda.

Blood:Water made it easy for people to see where their donations were going and they also made it easy to donate. By including a Donate Button that linked directly to the donation page, Blood:Water was able to simplify the payment process.

With over 80 million Millennials in the United States, it’s important for nonprofits to start marketing to them [1]. The days of direct mail are coming to an end and nonprofits need to adopt new strategies if they want to appeal to their future donor base.

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[1] Compare, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_boomer#Size_and_economic_impact

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