Back in January, I wrote about the state of direct mail in 2015, and what charities should watch for and expect in direct mail in 2016. Six months into the year, it’s time for a check-in.

The Analysis

In 2015, we were faced with a lot of external factors that didn’t have a huge impact individually, but had a big impact when put together. The election, a string of crises and disasters, and the economy all played a role in suppressing results, particularly in the middle two quarters of the year.

Here we are halfway through 2016, and we continue to face some of the same issues. While the Canadian election has come and gone (and we continue to sit in a bit of a Trudeau honeymoon period), the American election looms, and it’s going to be a doozy. How might it impact on donations in Canada? Hard to say, but it’s certainly making for a distraction and, depending on who the next President of the United States is, there might be some economic impact on the horizon.

While we haven’t had the ongoing string of crises and disasters that we saw in 2015, Syria and the refugee crisis continue to weigh on our minds and, unlike last year, we have had a true Canadian disaster in the Fort McMurray wildfires. Millions has been raised to support those impacted, and the efforts will be ongoing as residents of Fort McMurray return to their homes and rebuilding efforts continue.

The fires have also had a devastating impact on oil production in Alberta, a sector that was already suffering in a major way. So, there are no signs of economic recovery in that province, which impacts on the rest of Canada as well.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slowly gained ground in the first quarter of the year, but is expected to have declined once second quarter results are in. This is due, in large part, to the situation in Alberta. For an explanation of why we as fundraisers should pay attention to GDP, see my 2015 check-in. But in short: If the economy isn’t doing well, donors will be less likely to give.

But there’s some promising news: The stock market is headed in the right direction, which is good  for donor investment accounts. The S&P/TSX Composite Index is up almost 8.5% since January 1st, whereas last year it was one of the worst performing in the world.

The Verdict

Given all of the above, we should be cautiously optimistic that results will be a little better than last year. But, there’s something major looming on the horizon: the possibility of a strike by Canada Post workers. Clearly, a strike would have a major impact on our direct mail programs. We’re keeping you updated here and let’s all keep our fingers’ crossed that there’s some positive resolution to the negotiations.

Are You Taking Action?

In the meantime, my recommendations for 2016 still hold true, and will be particularly important should there be a mail disruption:

Stewardship and cultivation: You’ve heard us talk about it before, and you’ll hear us talk about it again. You need to be treating your donors with love and attention. Thank them. Steward them. Report back to them. With all those out of control external factors putting a damper on our direct marketing efforts, it’s more important than ever to treat your donors well. If you lose them, you’re unlikely to get them back.

Make it easy to give: When’s the last time you pretended you were a donor and tried to make a gift through your organization’s website? How easy was it? How did it make you feel? Now try it on your mobile device. Now how easy was it? My guess is that you ran into a roadblock somewhere along the way. The time is now to do a website audit, and improve your giving process.

Get rid of the silos: Many charities, including some of our clients, still operate in silos and, often, the term direct marketing means direct mail. This is a big problem. There’s a huge shift taking place right now. Donor receive a piece of mail from you, read it, put it down, and hop online to give (see previous point about making it easy to do so). We can no longer look at channel-by-channel revenue without looking at the big picture. Your donors may be choosing not to give to you via direct mail, but they’re likely still giving to you. And the direct mail piece they receive likely still plays a role in their giving decision, even if they choose not to return the coupon. Many charities are still looking at direct mail results in isolation, and don’t dig into the numbers beyond that. Often, this is because the website and/or online giving is ‘someone else’s job’ and on a different revenue line. You need to change that (and let us know if you need help figuring out how to tie online revenue to your direct mail campaigns: we have one client who does this really, really well).

The right hand isn’t talking to the left: Do you have an overall communications (or donor touch point) calendar for your organization? If not, put this on your to do list. Imagine yourself as your donor. In just a single day you get a year-end donor mailing, an appeal to buy lottery tickets, a newsletter, and a thank you/receipt for your last gift (not to mention mailings from other charities). Yes, it happens. Why? Because there isn’t a master communications calendar.

We aren’t focused enough on monthly and planned giving: Monthly donors have annual retention rates (typically) of 90% or more, and their average annual gifts add up to three to five times more than your average one-time-donor. We need to be converting one-time-gift donors to monthly giving, renewing lapsed monthly donors, following up on expired credit cards, and making our monthly donors feel loved. And let’s not forget planned giving. Resources for enhancing planned giving programs are often the first cut when times are tight when, in fact, they offer salvation for our revenue programs. Mention the fact you accept bequests everywhere any anywhere. Share testimonials from donors who have left a bequest. Make bequest information easy to find on your website. Then, when you receive a bequest intention, continue to steward and cultivate that donor.

How are your direct mail results in 2016? What are you doing to prepare for a possible Canada Post strike? Let me know in the comments.

This post was written by Leah Eustace, ACFRE, former Principal and Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works.