Worth Considering: Paper or Plastic?

Worth Considering from Matt HuggHow many times have we heard the question: paper or plastic? Actually not as much as we used to. Stores find that paper bags are pretty expensive, and more and more people bring their own bags. “Paper or plastic?” has become “bag or no bag?”

But in direct mail, paper or plastic is still the question.  Do we write to our donors on paper, or do you use that hunk of plastic on your desk: your computer.

There are two fundamental similarities between e-mail and paper mail:
1) Both are called “mail.”
2) Both use words.

Sure, maybe you can come up with a few more, but the point is that increasingly, we are finding that people respond very differently to these very different media.

One of the most basic differences is how each ages. Think about what you consider an “old” e-mail in your in-box. One day? Three days? If it’s there a week, it’s ancient.

How about paper mail? If it makes it past the initial screening (and you can package it so its chances are better) then it may sit on a desk for weeks, or maybe months. Plenty of fundraisers tell stories of getting a pledge card back from a mailing that’s over a year old.

What can you do with each? E-mail has the potential for all of the “bells and whistles,” literally. If you want you can add sound, video, link directly to your web page and more.

Paper is limited, but in limitation is focus. In a paper piece, you can’t instantly run away to a web page. The paper carries the entire message, for better if it’s well crafted, for worse if it doesn’t make your case well.

Probably the biggest difference is cost. There’s a great rush to e-mail because once the infrastructure is paid for (remember, you and your donor need to buy your computers and link to the Internet, which costs a lot more than a metal mail box at the curb), it feels like it’s free.

Paper mail requires much more current budget expense. Postage, paper, assembly, printing… It takes a lot to pull together, plus it’s not as “green” (ignoring, of course, the plastic and heavy metal content and manufacturing costs of the computer.)

So you should move it all to e-mail, right? Not so fast. There’s a case to shift quite a bit to e-mail, but certainly not all of it. It turns out that “all of the above” is much more effective. In another Compelling Copy I talk about multi-channel marketing, but for right now let’s just say that e-mail and paper mail make a much more powerful combination than they do working alone.

Of course, I’m biased. Either way – paper, plastic or combined together – I can write you a set of letters that bring out the best in your mission, and your donors. But whether you use me or work in house, its paper AND plastic that’s going to serve you well.

Hugg’s Monthly Tip: Is it all about you?

Hugg's Monthly TipIs it all about you?
 This is going to be hard to take, but I know you can: to your donors, it’s not about you; it’s not about your executive director; or even your organization. It’s about your mission. Today’s a good time to look at your marketing and fundraising material and ask yourself whether it looks like it’s about you and your organization, or why the donor really gives, to make a difference to your mission. So whether you save kids or cats, or preserve forests or fruit, your material needs to show how without your donors your mission would suffer – not your organization.

Can a fundraiser learn relationship building from a bank?

Banks… you might hate yours… you might feel ambivalent about yours… you may even love yours… but do you leave yours? Rarely.


Banks know that once you’re in… once you have the checking and the savings and the direct deposit and the credit card and the line of credit and the home equity loan and the brokerage service and the…. it’s too complicated to leave. They own you.

They spend a lot on building that relationship because they know that besides a tenth of a percentage point or two, what they offer is just the same as what the bank across the corner offers.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you manipulate your donors so that they give even while they hate you. However, I do want you to look at all the ways that you build your relationship. What have you invested to keep your donors?

Do your donors get “insider” information? Do they feel special when they give to you for the first time? Do you celebrate their successive years of support with a small token? Can they get access to information on your mission (which is really their mission) that they can pass along to their friends?

See, like the bank, you can’t afford to be a “just another charity on the corner” to them. You need your donor to “own” you.