Finding Good Mailing Lists

Why good mailing lists are critical

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an appealing, hard hitting message is the most important component of a direct mail fundraising campaign. After all, this is what the recipient is going to see and react to – right? Yes, true enough, but only if the recipient gets as far as reading it in the first place.  And however strong the message is, it won’t be read if it is sent to the wrong person. So while a strong creative presentation is certainly part of the success mix, it is not the most important. In fact, most experienced commentators agree that mailing lists account for at least 60% of the result, if not more.

Let me give you a good working example from recent experience. A Christian charity which does medical work in Africa started up a direct mail programme to recruit new donors. Their advisors recommended using list of known Christians and they opted for various subscriber lists to Christian newspapers together with other lists of people who professed the Christian faith. The logic behind this recommendation was that the Christian motivation for the charity’s work would have the most potent appeal. Results were disastrous, at less than 0.5%. With better advice the charity tried again, this time using lists of other charity donors who had responded to direct mail appeals – amongst them donors to a horse rescue charity, donors to medical research, overseas aid and so on. This time the results were very different – 5%. That’s 1000% better. How did this happen?

The explanation lies within the nature of the medium of direct mail itself. Direct mail only works with and for people who like to use it. Some people, a small but vocal minority, absolutely loathe receiving charity direct mail appeals. But these people never use direct mail or any form of mail order in any other aspect of their lives either. They don’t like the medium and they don’t use it. They feel it is an intrusion into their privacy.

But thankfully many millions of other people do use mail order and other forms of direct response advertising to make all sorts of purchases and transactions.

This is the pool into which we need to cast our net. But for really great results, we need to be even more selective. Within the community of people who are direct mail users is a sub-community of people whose preferred means of giving to charity is by direct mail. This group of charity direct mail givers is the real and perfect target.

Where do you find good mailing lists?

There is a complete industry of mailing list brokers all of whom will be keen to provide lists. However, the brokers which have genuine experience of charity direct mail are few.

Before placing any orders for lists, though, one key issue needs to be understood. General lists of mail order buyers no longer perform well enough to sustain a viable programme of mailings to recruit new donors. At the very least, there needs to be a reasonable proportion of other charity donor names in each campaign you conduct. So, if your mailing quantity is, say 20,000, at least 10,000 should come from other charity donor databases, otherwise the response levels will be too low for viability.

This factor cuts the source of mailing lists down somewhat as most commercial list brokers are not well placed to organise list swaps between charities.

Which types of list to choose?

It is an easy mistake to make to think either that you need

  • mailing lists of people who support similar charities
  • mailing lists of people in non-competing charities

The truth is that almost any list of charity direct mail responsive people will be better than any other and that response from almost any list of charity direct mail responsive people will perform well enough for the mailing to be viable.

Be guided by your list broker.

How much to pay?

There are 2 commercial bases for acquiring other charity mailing lists:

  • By swapping
  • By renting

Even if you have very few or no current names to give back by way of a swap, it may be possible to acquire swap names on the basis that you will repay your swap partner charity at a later date. Again your broker can advise.

You should expect to pay between £100 and £150 per thousand names depending on specific selections, data output requirements etc. to rent good charity responsive names and addresses.

      Had you thought of testing address-only mailings?

      Find more information here

     [ Write article about address-only]

Address-only mailing lists.

The resurgence of direct mail has laid bare another problem – getting hold of enough direct mail data (ie mailing lists) that comply with GDPR. The problem is compounded because quite a few data owners deleted large quantities of data in the early days of GDPR because they feared being fined huge sums of money by ICO, the data protection regulator, because they didn’t have consent from people on the list to use their name and address details. As You can read in another article on this site, this fear was misplaced.

In response to this shortage of usable data, Royal Mail launched a service called “ Partially Addressed Mail”. They offer to take a business or charity’s customer/donor list and find which postcode people on the list live in. They then offer to deliver mail to the non-customer/donor addresses in that postcode ( on the basis that like people tend to live in similar areas). A significant saving on postage is offered. The only ‘catch’ is that the business/charity has to agree to mail all households in those postcode areas. Results to date have been mixed.

However, a few data owners, including Clearlight Media, have now tested mailing household addresses only so long as they meet certain criteria. In the tests we did for some charity clients using our “Generous and Comfortably-off Households” list the results were comparable to mailings to named individuals. In fact there was a sense that a lot of people welcomed the non-instrusive aspect of not having a named individual showing through a window envelope ( “Where did you get my name from etc, etc).

We would recommend any user to try this avenue.

GDPR issues?

One of the big advantages of Address-only lists is that they fall completely outside the ambit of GDPR, so there is no restriction on their use due to Data Protection law or data privacy issues. Specialist lawyers have confirmed this.