The view from the doormat

Thousands of fundraisers will have been frantically busy in the last month or two making sure that our Christmas appeals hit our donors doormats in good time to send us masses of money. Now Andrew Papworth introduces us to a friend of his who has received a lot of the appeals that we have been working so hard to send her and that we really hope she will respond to.

Written by
Andrew Papworth
Added
May 15, 2012
Miss Stevens’ pile of letters.

Most charities anguish about the targeting of their direct mailshots and therefore try to use increasingly sophisticated methods of compiling and filtering lists to eliminate waste. But, deep down, they know that it is impossible to eradicate it entirely.

Seeing the problem from the viewpoint of a recipient ought to be salutary. Recently a 77-year-old woman – let’s call her Miss Stevens – handed me a bulging carrier bag containing the 20 charity mailshots she had received in just two weeks in October this year, not, she said, at all an unusual haul. Miss Stevens lives in a council flat in a run-down and deprived part of London – not an obvious fundraising target ­– but presumably she appears on so many lists because she is a regular churchgoer, has a soft heart and sometimes contributes to charities. She said she had become utterly disenchanted by the constant barrage of what she calls her ‘begging letters’.

As a result most were handed over to me unopened. Some were from quite obscure charities but many were from big charities. In three cases the same charities had mailed her twice in that single fortnight.

Is it time to limit the number of mailings we send?

Are we in danger of seeing more of these?

These 20 mailshots included two books of raffle tickets and two requests to enter lotteries – one of which was an exact rip-off of one of those awful Reader’s Digest mailings, complete with peel-off self-adhesive stickers to ‘choose your prize’. Twelve of the mailings included gifts, including a tote bag, a pair of knitted baby socks, loads of address labels, Christmas cards with envelopes and copious gift labels; or they contained attention-grabbing items such as a syringe and a miniature crutch made of bamboo. Two of the mailings included Christmas gift catalogues.

This wonderful table comes from Arts from Humanity and is made from old junk mail and magazines. If there’s anything in there from a charity let’s hope the recipient responded favourably first.

Doubtless the charities concerned saw Miss Stevens as a soft touch but they have merely succeeded in annoying and disillusioning her and making her believe that direct mail is a sheer waste of money and resources and making her suspicious of charities in general. The constant barrage of ‘begging letters’ has reached overkill in her case and now none of them gets opened let alone pulls a response. They have killed the goose that lays the occasional golden egg. Ironically she is just about to inherit several thousands of pounds. How many other Miss Stevens are there out there? Perhaps it’s time to limit the mailing frequency or add a tick box to say ‘please take me off your list’.

About the author: Andrew Papworth

Andrew Papworth

After a long career in advertising agencies, Andrew Papworth has been freelancing as an advertising and communications planner for about two decades.

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