By Mary Cahalane

I have been seeing a lot of articles during the past year about COVID and work. Specifically, about how the pandemic has changed the way we work and the way we communicate.

And honestly, how not? Organizations that were tied to an in-person environment had a tough awakening. If your donor management system wasn’t based in the cloud, you were disconnected from critical information and workflows.

We meet friends via Zoom and Facetime. We even have to hold funerals that way. There’s something so very sad about watching a family grieve without being able to touch!

So it’s time to switch to digital communications, right?

No! Please don’t.

According to NonProfitPro, response rates to direct mail solicitations are roughly 10 times higher than any digital channel (including email).

It’s terrific to have a fundraising communications strategy that includes both digital and direct mail channels. But email and social still bring in a fraction of what direct mail does for nonprofit organizations.

Beat the competition
I don’t mean the nonprofit down the street. With every passing year, our email inboxes and social media feeds are full of nonprofit messaging. And while our mailboxes may have big seasons (end of year), your message still has less competition for attention. From my friends at CompuMail: for roughly every 36 emails you receive on average, you get one piece of mail in your mailbox.

Paper and the power of touch
And since we’re human, we can’t discount the importance of touch. We take it for granted as a way to navigate our surroundings. But it’s really important. Just think about the people you can’t hug right now if you don’t believe me!

We know touch is essential for healthy infant development, and for adult happiness. But we also use it every day, almost every moment, to understand our environment. Our body is one giant sensor!

And text on paper is part of our physical world in a way that text on a screen is not.

From Infolific: Health & Fitness: Sense neurons are located on the bottom skin layer called the dermis. Here there are nerve endings called sensory neurons. These neurons carry signals to the brain which are quickly processed into useful information then the body reacts if it needs to. Reaction involves signals from the brain traveling to the appropriate muscle neurons where the action will be taken, e.g. tightening your hand around a glass.

What does this have to do with mail?
You don’t just read physical mail. You handle it. You interact with it. And touching it sends all sorts of messages that you might not be consciously aware of.

Textures change how we think. There’s this study I love about how sandpaper made people more likely to give. And think about what a heavy piece of paper communicates: this is important.

Think about it: have you ever gotten a wedding invitation on copy paper?

Better understanding
From Scientific American: …Evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.

In other words, it’s still easier for most people to understand your words if they’re reading them on paper. And you do want to be understood.

When we read paper, we also feel we have a better sense of control. It’s easy to flip a page back and forth. And we remember where that paragraph we want to revisit is more easily when we saw it on a physical page.

Paper -— and mail — still matters
Email certainly seems less expensive. It can also fool you into sending messages out with less consideration. And while it’s certainly cheaper to email someone than to pay for postage and paper, response rates are so low! Consider that all the email you’re sending out might not only be missing the mark, but irritating its intended reader.

Direct mail continues to show better results, year after year. How long have we been waiting for its death? If it didn’t happen in 2020, during a pandemic, do you really think it will anytime soon?

You don’t have to choose sides, though. You can still use email and social media to support your messaging. And it won’t take that much more work.

Repetition is powerful. When we see messages repeated, they have more weight. So create a terrific direct mail package. Then use the same messaging and stories in bite-sized pieces via email and social. They can all support each other. You don’t have to start from scratch.

Mary Cahalane is the principal of Hands-On Fundraising and specializes in donor communications and fundraising planning.

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