Back to Basics: Membership Direct Mail Acquisition

Using direct mail for acquisition is a very viable channel for attracting new members. In this post, we’re going back to basics on direct mail acquisition. Whether you are new to using direct mail or are a seasoned veteran, following are the five key things to keep in mind when executing a direct mail acquisition campaign.

Lists

The purpose of direct mail acquisition is to reach a new audience and ask them to join your organization. You should utilize a mix of three types of lists:

  • In-house non-member prospects, such as camp registrants, event ticket purchasers and special exhibition ticket buyers, as well as lapsed members
  • Traded lists from other like-minded, local cultural organizations
  • Rental lists, often subscribers or buyers of magazines or catalog items

Offer

Successful direct mail acquisition mailings should include an attractive offer. A 10% off discount on the new memberships, premium item offered as part of the membership purchase, additional free months applied to the membership or another exclusive offer are proven options to entice recipients to join.

Package/Creative

Many membership direct mail campaigns are full-color packages and contain a full-color outer envelope, letter, brochure, reply device (often attached to the letter) and return envelope. The envelopes and letter should include attractive images of the organization’s offerings, such as animals or artifacts, as well as images of benefits offered to the prospective member, such as event photos or special access tours.

Analysis

Performing matchback analysis on direct mail campaigns is a great way to show the success of a campaign. A matchback analysis compares the entire mail file to all membership transactions that occurred since the mailing (or since the first mailing when there were multiple mailings in one campaign). Any member that joined or rejoined and received the mailing should be attributed to the success of the campaign—even if they did not reply directly to the mailing or use the provided promo code when purchasing their membership. Since many people that receive a direct mail piece will purchase online or wait until their next visit to your organization to join, you cannot rely on mailed responses and promo codes alone. A successful direct mail acquisition campaign generally has a response rate between 0.5% and 1.5%.

Testing

Finally, continuous testing is crucial to successful direct mail campaigns. Through testing, you can identify what works best for attracting new members to your organization. A/B testing is one of the least complicated ways to test—requiring only a control package and the test package to be mailed, each to a segment of the mail file. Some various testing options include:

  • Full-color (referred to as four-color) versus two-color outer envelopes
  • Package sizes (e.g., a #10 envelope versus a 6×9 envelope)
  • Offer testing (e.g., 10% discount versus $10 off discount or guest passes versus event passes)
  • Imagery on the envelopes and letter (e.g., family images versus artifacts images)
  • Messaging (e.g., value versus experience messaging in the letter)

Testing works best when only one element is being tested so that results are clear. Additional testing can be completed in subsequent mailings. For example, let’s assume that artifact imagery was the “winning package” after testing imagery of families versus imagery of artifacts. The winning artifact package could then be tested against another image or you could choose a different element such as package size to test. Direct mail testing helps you learn about your marketing and helps your team better target your audience.


Direct mail may seem “old school” to some, but it is still the backbone of acquisition programs and is even more powerful when paired with email and digital campaigns with the same messaging and creative as the direct mail campaign.

Make this powerful medium work for your program!


Need help on your next direct mail acquisition campaign? Just fill out the form below to find out how we can assist you in developing your most successful direct mail campaign yet!

Success Story: Lions, Tigers and Amazing Results for Hogle Zoo!

In 2018, Utah’s Hogle Zoo partnered with Membership Consultants in order to create a fresh approach to their membership initiatives as well as their creative focus and messaging. Their goal was to improve results in their direct mail acquisition and renewal efforts.

In celebration of the Zoo’s new red panda exhibit, we created a fun, animal-focused campaign that invited people to meet the Zoo’s latest additions. The Zoo also identified their “Big Six” animals of focus for their conservation efforts.

This enhanced focus on membership in the creative strategy told the story of Utah’s Hogle Zoo and the animals in their care, resulting in amazing outcomes for the Zoo’s membership program.

The direct mail campaign was sent to 225,000 households and was supported by an email series that helped boost overall results and the bottom line. The campaign results exceeded projections while resulting in …

  • A 1.26% response rate
  • 3,722 new/renewed members
  • A $175 average gift
  • More than $651,000 in membership revenue
  • A $5.22 ROI for every dollar spent

Additionally, the overall net revenue of the program exceeded the prior year’s results by $189,000!


Need help with enhancing your new member acquisition strategy? Contact us for more information on how you can increase your direct mail results!

100 Tips for Revolutionizing Your Membership and Development Program

By Sheldon Wolf and Dana Hines

1. Have an annual and a longer-term Development Plan. Have this plan (based on Board participation) approved by the Board.

2. Define success to include cultivation and stewardship.

3. Know your marketplace. Who is your competition? What are they doing?

4. Read donor lists. Collect playbills. Read donor walls in libraries, hospitals, wherever names are listed. Having money is not enough. Who has charitable intent?

5. Know your Board? Who has greater capacity?

6. Seek out a Board member who will challenge other Board members to increase their gifts.

7. Use the nominating process to introduce the expectation of high giving levels.

8. Expand the circle of people invested in your museum by adding non-Board members to your committees.

9. Create ad hoc committees of non-Board members.

10. A major gift named after the founder or a key generous donor allows the message to be “Join this chain of philanthropy that extends back to our very beginnings.”

11. Draft a letter for Board members to send to their personal and business contacts.

12. The words, “Join me,” are extremely powerful.

13. The words, “Join us,” are extremely powerful. 100% participation by your Board in your campaigns is essential.

14. The more personal the approach, the more effective it will be.

15. Cultivate long-term relationships with donors to the collection.

16. Join the most important civic groups in your community. Be seen as a “player.”

17. Be visible at other cultural institutions and major community events.

18. Foundation executives are people. Meet them.

19. Every grant proposal tells a story. What need will you address? Why now? Why you?

20. Use special events to cultivate new relationships.

21. Thank special event guests as they enter, during the event, and as they leave.

22. Engage your staff and Board at events to make sure strategic conversations occur with the most important people.

23. At events, seek out people who are standing by themselves.

24. At a special dinner, your Board Chair and your CEO should be at different tables. Have two head tables rather than just one.

25. Read your local newspaper.

26. Use your communications to donors/members to help them feel like insiders. Give them information about your exhibitions and programs they can use to “show off.”

27. Invite special prospects to see recent acquisitions.

28. Once you have a constituency, and a sense that the organization is here to stay, mention planned giving in annual report, newsletter, online, etc.

29. Most planned gifts are bequests. You don’t have to be an expert in everything else.

30. Create a planned gift advisory group of experts from your community.

31. If you have a community fund in your area, work with the people there.

32. A capital campaign is an outcome of good strategic planning.

33. What is your Museum’s value for the community? Will changes in the program make it even more valuable?

34. Stress community in your communications.

35. Use photographs strategically. If your museum serves a poorer constituency, be careful with black-tie images.

36. While your annual report might acknowledge the past, use it to inspire donors about the future.

37. With your Board, create a Development Policy that addresses how/when you will accept gifts, who must approve them, who acknowledges what, etc.

38. The “public campaign” is the most costly part of your capital campaign with the smallest return, so hold off as long as you can.

39. Don’t let “public campaign” be an excuse for your Board and solicitors to stop doing their work.

40. Development must be included in marketing decisions (especially products=exhibitions).

41. Ask donors for feedback and advice.

42. Corporate philanthropy hardly exists anymore. It’s all about marketing.

43. If there are not enough people coming in the doors, development goals will not be reached.

44. Look at the relationship between admission fees and membership. When does membership become an offer that cannot be refused?

45. Develop a Membership Plan.

46. Your emphasis on money (we want more cash from our members) vs. people (we want more members) may lead you to different strategies.

47. A plan helps you stay on track and fend off other people’s ideas that will take you off track of what you are trying to achieve.

48. Include others in your membership planning

49. Have a monthly goal for number of members to join, renew, and a revenue goal, too. Check to see if you hit your goal and figure out why you did or did not meet goal.

50. Keep an eye on the competition. But don’t copy anyone else’s campaigns unless you know how it performed (don’t copy a failure)

51. Pick three top goals for your membership program and spend the year achieving those goals

52. Test offers – a premium vs. a discount.

53. Know your audience. Who is your typical member? Plan accordingly.

54. Ask people to join

55. Tell people why they should join your organization. Tell people why you deserve their support – quantify what you do

56. Tell people what you want them to do – be explicit. I want you to upgrade to $150, I want you to renew at the Patron level, renew your membership by December 31

57. Sell memberships face to face.

58. Train your frontline admissions and sales staff.

59. Develop an incentive program to get front line people to sell memberships

60. Don’t abandon direct mail – it still works!

61. Do letter packages to ask for money, not self mailers.

62. Code all sources of new members – you need to know what is working!

63. Put your museum’s name and address on each piece of the mailing.

64. Track the number and source of new members

65. Track renewals by each mailing – know what your response rate is for each contact.

66. Combine the methods of asks and track each method – phone, email, direct mail

67. Lapsed members are gold – solicit them often

68. Segment you lapsed member campaigns by year – learn how far back you can mail or email and still be able to recapture Members

69. Offer a premium to get people to join, renew, upgrade or give to the annual fund

70. Do not abandon the phones. Telemarketing works to renew memberships, get lapsed people to join or to get members to give a second gift

71. Run reports at month’s end

72. Know your renewal rate

73. Track numbers of renewals sent by each renewal contact. Use this to figure out your renewal rate

74. Stay in close touch with members. Email, phone or visit with members often

75. Survey your members at least every three years in a comprehensive, professional survey.

76. Survey lapsed members at the same time and compare the results.

77. Raise your dues every three years

78. Figure out how much it is costing you to service each member – make sure you are charging at least twice that amount in your lowest level membership category.

79. Evaluate your membership categories. Do you have too many? If so revamp and make easy, simple categories.

80. Know your average gift, response rate and cost per dollar raised on each campaign that you perform.

81. Learn from failures. Evaluate each campaign and find a gem of wisdom in each one.

82. Take risks, try something new.

83. Experiment with colors, shapes, formats.

84. Ask your members/donors to give in other ways. Annual fund, upgrade, tributes, give a membership gift, special project. Don’t be afraid to ask again and again!

85. Ask for more.

86. Keep stats on everything. Keep files to give to the person who take over after you leave. Don’t leave them in a lurch!

87. Share information with your peers – at your organization or at others. Being secretive doesn’t really pay off.

88. Share the names of key donors and prospects with the person who answers the phone for the Director.

89. Thank people profusely!

90. Evaluate often. The reality around you is changing often.

91. Remember to thank your staff, your volunteers, your Board.

92. Schmooze. Darcy Rezac in his book, The Frog and the Prince, wrote that schmoozing is “Discovering what you can do for someone else.”

93. Continually move from transactional to relational.

94. Survey people who are involved. Survey people who are not involved.

95. Involve the entire staff in your Plan. Everyone is meeting people and/or engaging with the public and/or improving your program.

96. Support your museum at the highest level you can. Challenge others on staff to give. (“Join me.”)

97. Hire staff with good people skills. The technology can be taught.

98. Your most important skill is listening.

99. Celebrate victories – not matter how large or small.

100. Pat yourself on the back every day.

BONUS POINTS

101. Have a membership and development presence on Facebook and social media

102. Mirror your mail campaigns with a simultaneous, similarly branded email request

103. Have a JOIN tab on your Facebook page

104. Don’t abandon mailed asks (still the most important driver of giving) for electronic only asks

105. Don’t forget the members or donors you don’t have email addresses for.

106. Make email collection a priority with every contact

107. Host Facebook and social media contests and engagement to involve, excite and Create buzz – and make sure there is a way to collect name and addresses

108. Create branded landing pages for each of your campaigns that mirror the brand of the mail or email campaigns

109. Make sure you are in control of your communication schedule with your members/donors

110. Make friends with your organization’s marketing and IT teams – to get the support your campaigns and communications need

Sheldon Wolf

President

AdvancementCompany, LLC

806 Pleasant Avenue

Wyndmoor, PA 19038

215-836-8484

http://www.advancementco.com

Dana S. Hines

President & CEO

Membership Consultants

3868 Russell Blvd.

St. Louis, MO 63110

dana@membership-consultants.com

314-771-4664 ext 105

314-771-2759 fax

http://www.membership-consultants.com

Membership Acquisition – 25th Anniversary Perspectives

Membership Consultants celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012! To commemorate that milestone we will take on 25 membership topics – looking back and looking forward – presenting a topic each week until the end of our anniversary year via our blog. We invite you to celebrate with us and weigh in on your membership experiences and opinions.  Here is Topic #2 – Membership Acquisition…

What are your best sources of new members? Direct mail, on-site sales, member-get-a member campaigns? Can you quantify what percent of new members come from what source? If not, get counting!

Having a quarter century perspective on membership can be an interesting place to be. And thinking back even before the start of Membership Consultants to my early days as a membership manager, direct mail was definitely our primary source of new members without question. In fact, the program I served at a botanical garden far outpaced all other organizations in our city with our membership totals simply because our garden and our director was an early adopter of the use of direct mail way back in the 1970’s! He saw it as a scientific experiment – which it still is today.  In those days, direct mail accounted for 60% to 70% of our new members. Today, direct mail probably accounts for 30% to 50% of most viable organizations’ new members. But direct mail IS still a very viable source of new memberships – it is still targeted, timely and YOU control it – you are not waiting for people to come to you! But it may DRIVE people to you in other ways – as in to visit you in person and join at that time. Or to “visit” your online and join in that way. Direct mail is definitely not dead!

On–site sales at a visitation-based organization or sales at the point of purchase for an association (such as when people sign up for your annual convention) has most likely taken over first place from direct mail. On-site sales can account for 40% to 60% of new member sales for some organizations. We have gotten much bolder at asking people to join. Being direct, or in-your-face, is the best way to get a new member. If you have a prospect before you, simply ASK them to join! This method of getting new members is usually the most cost effective – often with a cost per dollar raised of just $.25 to $.50, as compared to direct mail, which may cost $1.00 to $1.50 to raise a dollar.

Other methods of acquiring new members might include using your existing members to bring you new members – often called ‘refer a member’, ‘member-get-a-member’ or a gift membership program.  In fact, this is exactly how most membership programs started. Ladies who lunch would ask their friends to teas and encouraged them to join. Board members of an organization would ask their peers to support their causes – the person-to-person ask. Today these efforts are still alive online, such as when runners in a marathon get their friends to join an organization in support of their fundraising event. Gift memberships, for certain types of membership organizations, are also a viable source of new members. Friends like to share their favorite places with one another, and giving a gift membership is a great way to make sure you will experience your favorite place with your friends. These referral and gift sources can account for another 10% to 20% of your membership totals.

Email campaigns are probably best used to recapture lapsed members or get people with whom you already have a relationship to join or rejoin. After all, if you didn’t already have a relationship, you wouldn’t have the person’s email address, and an email appeal without a relationship is just SPAM, right? That is not to say that there aren’t email campaigns to strangers; the results are just infinitesimal.

There are many types of special projects and promotions that organizations try to get new members. Some work, some are trial and error, but most new members come from one of the tried and true tactics described above.

Know your sources! Figure out where your members are coming from. Then crank up the best producing acquisition activities and start growing!

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to join in, we would like to see your comments.

Discount Debate

“We don’t discount.  It devalues the brand we have worked so hard to establish.  We prefer to offer value-added service rather than discount our quality product.”

Does that sound like a membership manager talking?  Actually, those words came from a franchise restaurant manager interviewed on Undercover Boss! 

Personally, I would have given that woman a promotion and a raise right on the spot!  Those words succinctly mirror my own opinions on discounting.

However, we find ourselves deep in a discounting world these days.  From the “Great Recession” to the popularity of Groupon, discounts do seem to rule.

Making any discount decision should be very well thought out.  Go through all the “what ifs” and worst case scenarios – they might come true!  If you think you can survive the worst case and you aren’t afraid of the big unknown, then maybe you have the stomach for what may lie ahead.  Being prepared is the most important factor.

Here are a couple of discounting stories to consider….

A zoo direct mail client wanted to break out of the “No Discount” mode that had always ruled their thinking.  A $5 discount on all categories was offered to half of the people receiving the mailing – the other half were offered an affordable backpack with the zoo’s logo.  The backpack group produces a .94% response!  However, the discount group received a 1.89%!  And the discount offer kept winning.  So here is an example that a modest discount could produce amazing results, without breaking the bank.

The other is a Groupon story – everyone has who’s been involved in Groupon has a story!  However, this one has the answer that everyone wonders about.  This organization was one of the first membership organizations to perform a Groupon offer.  They signed up 5,000 new members.  They saw a new demographic joining as a result of the offer.  They were prepared to do all things possible to get people to renew – mail, phone, e-mail.  Drum roll, please……the renewal rate, 6 months post expiration is 12%.  This organization’s normal first year renewal rate is 40% to 44%.  This is only one example, but it is a good example of what to expect from your Groupon renewals if you are prepared to be aggressive with renewal efforts.

Would these organizations do it again?   The answer to the first story is yes, absolutely.   The answer to the second story is…  what do you think?  Let us hear your thoughts, and share your discounting stories, too!