For those of you that are savvy veterans of the direct mail fundraising game, you know that we are heading into the busiest and most important time of year, pandemic or not. For the vast majority of direct mail fundraisers, the September to December stretch is the biggest in terms of revenue coming in and mail packages going out. Many of you will be well underway with preparations, if not production, of your early Fall mailings.
But the Fall 2020 season will be unlike anything we have ever experienced before. The realities of a COVID-19 world will affect all aspects of our lives this Fall, just as they have in the Spring and Summer. It could be working remotely while juggling kids who are learning remotely. Or, our suppliers working on our production while applying COVID-19 safety protocols. Perhaps it is the new reality of international shipping and trade or the effects on the mail stream. The pandemic will impact almost every aspect of the direct mail process.
So what do we need to consider this year, perhaps a bit more than we have in past years?
In a normal year, perhaps you considered premium packages for acquisition appeals produced in the US or Asia. The lead time on those kinds of things is normally months more than a typical direct mail appeal. In a COVID-19 world, it will be even longer. If you haven’t started the production on this type of mailing already, then you are probably already too late.
Consider a prospect acquisition package that does not include a premium or includes a premium that can be manufactured locally. Examples of these kinds of premiums might include bookmarks or magnets. Better yet, pull those prospects in with a compelling story wrapped in an attractive and eye-catching mailing package.
You may notice that the demand for direct mail production services is higher this Fall. Organizations that may have relied on events or major gifts are having to find different ways to fundraise. Direct mail remains an effective fundraising option in our socially distanced world.
Production suppliers also need to consider the health and safety of their employees. Caution should be the watchword when it comes to employee health and safety, but COVID-19 safety protocols could impact a supplier’s productivity.
Get your appeals into the production stream earlier than you normally would to account for increased volume and the potential for supplier bottlenecks. By being at the front of that queue, you ensure that your mailings are less likely to be impacted by delays.
Even if you are early and get to the front of the production queue, as we have seen in the past 6 months, the situation can change very quickly. Be prepared for the fact that you may need to change course without much notice. Yes, this may lead to unexpected costs. But, as we found in the early days of the pandemic in Canada, charities (specifically health charities) that responded quickly to the pandemic saw significant increases in response and donations to mailings that went out in May and April over the previous year.
By preparing a contingency plan you can mitigate those change costs and be better prepared to alter course if you need to. Talk to your production suppliers and designers about how you can design and produce your mailing package in a way that will allow for change. Build that flexibility into your mailing package from the outset. And having that discussion with your suppliers now will also keep them in the loop, so any change of plans will not come as a complete surprise.
Please also consider the impact the pandemic has had on Canada Post. COVID-19 safety protocols and a massive increase in online shopping deliveries have affected mail delivery. Canada Post has already indicated that they cannot be held to their mail delivery standards during these times. Currently, we are finding that they are not far off those standards. But, as the holiday shopping season ramps up, expect to see a more noticeable impact to mail delivery standards. So, plan on your mail spending more time in the mail stream this year, as a result.
With some planning and flexibility, you may just get through this Fall season and the unknowns that it might bring, with only a few more grey hairs.