Direct mail that makes a difference

Non-profits have long used direct mail to connect with Canadians – find out how one charity has reimagined it for the digital age

 
It’s not just retailers that are looking to better connect with Canadians. With more than 170,000 in Canada, non-profits and charities are too. They must not only compete for fundraising dollars, but also ensure the issues they’re fighting for are getting heard.

 
Traditionally, direct mail has been one of the most effective tools non-profits have used to make an emotional connection with their community of supporters – but what about in the digital age?

 
At Canada Post’s annual Think INSIDE the Box conference, which brings together marketers from across the country to discuss the potential and possibilities of direct mail, Word Vision Canada shared its recent experience and insight.

 

World Vision Canada has added digital elements that enable sponsors to directly connect with the children they sponsor

 
For 60 years, World Vision Canada has been dedicated to improving the lives of children around the world, and is one of the largest organizations devoted to child sponsorship. Its pre-printed sponsorship welcome kits had always been well-received by its core supporters. However, in recent years, enthusiasm for them was starting to wane.

 
Like many charities, its supporters’ expectations were changing.

 
“When we would speak to sponsors and had focus groups of their perceptions about the interactions with World Vision, we often would hear, ‘It would be great if I could look this information [about the child] up online, so I could see the impact I’m having,” says James Carroll, director of supporter experience at World Vision Canada.

 
Carroll knew it was time to evolve the way it connected with its community – and while change can be daunting, the organization was no stranger to it.

 

The new sponsor welcome kits better connect with World Vision Canada’s supporters

 
Change and evolution
Rich Bassett, President of Toronto-based marketing firm Bassett Direct, remembers getting the call from World Vision Canada around 7 a.m. on Boxing Day in 2004, just after the world was learning about the earthquake and tsunami that rocked the Indian Ocean and caused widespread devastation.

 
To help supporters and potential donors understand how they could help, the organization realized it needed to act with the speed of a major media organization.

 
“From that minute to before New Year’s, we sent out more than half a million pieces of direct mail, using material World Vision had, or pulling images from the newswires,” says Bassett. “Just think about the huge impact that had.” Instead of merely explaining its programs and services the organization was using direct mail to report on an important news event.

 
Fast forward to today and Bassett, along with Guelph, Ont.-based consulting firm Blue North Strategies, has helped the organization again redefine how it uses direct mail.

 
This time they are combining print with digital elements to create a rich multi-media storytelling experience that supports personalized communication between the organization and its individual supporters, and more direct communication between supporters and the children they are sponsoring.

 
The new welcome kits now focus on telling stories about the donor’s specific child and driving them to connect directly with them online.

 
“This isn’t about World Vision introducing the sponsor to their child. This is about the child introducing themselves to their sponsor,” says Cam Shapansky, CEO at Blue North Strategies.

 
Their vision is working: 40% of sponsors are creating online World Vision Canada accounts and 60% are engaging with their sponsored child after signing up.

 
Bassett believes as more charities and non-profit organizations get sophisticated in how they tell stories, they will start to look at how they can connect with donors in new ways, and the potential that combining print with digital can offer.

 
“There’s so much you can do with print,” he says. “Ultimately you’re able to send out the right message, to the right individuals, at the right time.”

 

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