How much does it cost non-profits to send me this stuff?

When I got my dog and registered her with the AKC, I was immediately put on to mailing lists for all sorts of animal charities.

I am all for animal charities. I love animals, love organizations who help them. I would love to give millions of dollars to them every year but I can’t. I can manage to give about $100 total to the HSUS and to my local humane society and that’s probably more than I should afford.

Inbetween sending checks each year, I get a barage of mailings from the HSUS (and all the others), which usually include stickers, personalized notepads, address labels, notecards, t-shirts and even an umbrella. All of them with notes telling very sad animal stories, begging me to donate and making me die a little bit inside…

Anyway…this stuff can’t be cheap, can it? I’m sure it helps people re-donate when they get these little incentives, and some of the items will definitely help marketing - but is the cost to send this stuff out worth it to the organization?

I like to think that these organizations get their stickies and do-dads for next to nothing, as a donation from stickie-and-do-dad-making companies and it doesn’t compete with their spay-and-neutering budget but a part of me thinks that’s the case.

What’s the straight dope on all of this junk I get in the mail? Does it cost the HSUS more than $100/year to send it to me? While I like the stuff they send, I am sort of inclined to ask them to knock it off - for their sake.

(by the way…it’s not just animal charities who do this. I have a drawerfull of stuff from the United Way too, and the Association for the Blind sent me an umbrella!)

The doodads cost very little – bumper stickers ordered in bulk cost only a few cents each.

The bigger cost is postage. For a nonprofit organization a letter (up to 3.3 ounces) can cost from 10.5 to 17 cents each depending on how organized the organization’s pre-sort capabilities are. Using a commercial mailing house to prepare the mailing will add another few cents.

So a reasonable cost scenario is 25-30 cents for each piece of mail (sending an umbrella will cost more.) That means your $100 contribution could pay for 300+ pieces of mail each year.

And while this is counterintuitive, it may actually cost more in labor to take an individual off the mailing list than to send out another letter. That’s why my organization only purged the lists after someone hadn’t donated for two years.

There are a number of sites where you can look up charitable organizations and see what % of their income is spent on outreach, overhead, direct services, etc. Try

Sometimes the cost of the fundraising efforts are covered through donations from other companies, too.

For example, Nonprofit A has a Board of Directors, and the CEO of Company X sits on that Board. The Board helps the folks at Nonprofit A come up with a development plan that involves mailing marketing materials. The CEO might say, “Company X will donate the costs of printing and mailing those materials.” That way, the Nonprofit gets to do their mailing at low or no cost to them, and Company X gets a charitable donation writeoff.

The NPO’s swap mailing lists.
The postage rates for NPO mailings are subsidized by the taxpayers via low rates.
A lot of recipients toss 'em, BUT enough ‘bite’ to make them very profitable operations!

Really? How long ago was that? You’d think it’d be pretty easy to track and make those changes now with all of the software available. Then again I suppose a small non-profit wouldn’t be swimming in fancy software.

When I moved I contacted the HSUS and told them to change my address…cuz I wanted return labels with my new address :o It did take them about 30 days to make the transition.

Shoshana - thanks for that link. Looks like it only costs the HSUS $1.30 to get my $100 out of me. They only spent about $9k out of their $78mm for advertising in 2004.

Come to think of it…my company made a donation to the HSUS for Katrina and they don’t seem to spend much on getting companies to re-subscribe. As a company we haven’t gotten any do-dads - just a coupla newsletters and an e-newsletter. So they must be reaping a lot more from companies than they are spending on advertising to them. It’s the private persons that need all the prodding.

To clarify… it is pretty simple, but it takes time, and the average development (fund-raising) person has to hustle corporate and foundation grants, take phone calls from donors, write newsletters and a lot of other stuff that promises a greater return than cleaning up mailing lists. So rather than do a few at a time, it’s more efficient to let the changes stack up for awhile and do a bunch at once.

Besides, no organization is going to purge you from its mailing list just because you didn’t respond to their last appeal.

It actually doesn’t take much work for names to be removed from a mailing list. A customer who wants to do a mailout will contact the list provider and give them a list of parameters. (e.g., geographical region, minimum and/or maximum FICO score, etc.) The list provider will have a ‘pander file’. Using the pander file is as simple as the data analyst setting a parameter to say ‘use the pander file’. The bureaus are supposed to exclude names on the pander file. The customer may want the names for one reason or another (e.g., analysis), but they won’t – or shouldn’t – use the names on their actual mailout.

Getting off the mailing list.

You can also speak to someone directly at the charity you wish to support. My mom does this. She will donate to charities that she likes once a year, and she has a set amount. Usually, once you donate, they send you mailings every time you turn around, and it drives her crazy.

So she calls up the charity and gets an actual person, and very politely says, “Hi! I really want to support you. I am going to send you $XXX per year. I do not wish to receive mail from you more often than that. Mail me once a year, and you will get your money. If you mail me more than once a year, however, I will find another charity to support. Thank you.”

I’ve never done it myself, but it’s always worked for her.