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    February 16, 2009

    Agility in a time of uncertainty

    Regardless of where you stand on DM-it's dying, it's set-up for growth-one thing most of us who delve in the DM world can agree on is that compared to web-based fundraising channels, DM is not particularly agile.

    Not all situations call for agility-no matter how many times I monitor telemarketing calls, I am continuously amazed by how much some people love to chat with people calling to ask them for money, but agility can be a huge plus in fundraising efforts, particularly ones that are, what I like to think of as, "time-limited."

    This agility can be particularly important for organizations that deal with disaster-relief efforts, but increasingly, many organizations are finding themselves in a situation bordering on "disaster" for the communities they serve and are likely to find themselves contacting donors with "unregularly scheduled" fundraising campaigns.

    Let's say your organization has a branch in California. Let's say there are wildfires that destroy, oh, 1,000 homes and displace say, 8,000 people. Compare the time it would take to write copy, set up an email, if you are really technical, make sure it renders properly across all possible platforms and create versions for HTML/ text-only versioning. Even if you are an organization obsessed with the details of executing perfectly rendered emails, in a crisis, an email could easily get out the door in 48 hours.

    Now let's try to do the same thing with DM. Creating the copy, let's assume this takes the same amount of time as copy for an email, even though in my experience DM copy tends to go through many more rounds of edits than email (perhaps this reflects a bias in how people gauge relative importance of this copy). Ok, so you've got the copy approved. Now you have to hope you have stock on hand to send an unplanned mailing out to X amount of people. If you don't have stock on hand, well, add on at least a week or two to get your hands on something.

    Now some organizations are very well prepared, they have preprinted stock on hand. Others, have to start design from scratch. So you get your copy and materials together, print, lettershop, insert, sort everything, get it to the post office for shipping, and...

    Well, here is where you decide-should you mail third of first? With rates going up by $.02 in May for first, third might be the more cost-effective option, but this means your "disaster" mailing doesn't get in homes until at 7-10 days later.

    So, best case, first class out scenario, email still has you beat by at least 2 days.

    "So what?" you say, the people who are most likely to give me money in this sort of situation don't check their emails anyway cause maybe they don't even have email.

    This is certainly the case for many of us. But times are a-changing to tip the scales in favor of capitalizing on the agility allowed for by email campaigns:

    According to a new study out from Pew Internet Project, "Contrary to the image of Generation Y as the "Net Generation," Internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life. Generation X is the most likely group to bank, shop, and look for health information online. Boomers are just as likely as Generation Y to make travel reservations online. And even Silent Generation Internet users are competitive when it comes to email (although teens might point out that this is proof that email is for old people)."

    (from Pew Study referenced above)

    My grandmother's retirement building is getting a new computer lab installed in what used to be the winter sun room and residents can sign up for classes. She still loves to read her DM pieces, but maybe she will love reading those stories online as well.

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