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The Impact of Hurricane Season on Direct Mail Acquisition Prospecting

Author: Minyi Berlan Date: 09/19/2018

Last Friday, Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Carolinas. As Florence departs and many rescuers are still working overtime to help those affected, we are uncertain of the full impact of the flooding in its aftermath.  On the fundraising side, many organizations that are directly involved in the recovery process are scrambling to raise funds to provide critical aid, while others in the overarching fundraising direct mail community are also halting mail into the impacted areas.


The question on a lot of minds is, “How long will recovery take?”  


After receiving several emails debating the period of impact on mail delivery, we thought this might be a good time to discuss the topic. At this point, we get the impression most mailers are halting mailings with expected in-home dates within the next month to the impacted zones. Beyond this immediate timeframe is where the debate lies.


What can history tell us?


Last year, one of our clients decided to study the results of prospects mailed in Hurricane Harvey- impacted areas in its November acquisition campaign, three months after the hurricane. What they learned was surprising. What we were hoping for, at best, was little-to-no difference; what we saw instead was that those three thousand names in the Harvey-impacted areas out-responded the national sample (excluding the hurricane impacted zone).  They out-pulled in response by 24%! While average gift was about a dollar lower, the gross income per thousand was 17% better.


Before we get too excited, it’s important to note that the sample size in this is small (3,212), so we are interested to hear how it compares to other nonprofits experiences. The client is also in the human services sector, although not directly involved in the recovery process (and the package didn’t address the hurricane), so the experience could be very different for another nonprofit – as always, we advise our clients to test before rolling out on any great ideas.


How have personal experiences changed our fundraising perspective? 


While we need more data to be certain of validity, the results did make us wonder what could make those in the areas directly impacted more altruistic. Then I thought about my own experiences, seeing two hurricanes ravage our area in the last two years (an area of Florida that hadn’t seen a hurricane in over 20 years). Personally, my family evacuated our home in the wake of Hurricane Irma; it was stressful tracking the path of the hurricane on television for days, wondering if we should stay put with the kids … and then finally making the hard decision at 2 a.m. to go the day before the storm was scheduled to hit us. We were lucky, and our town was spared the worst. We came home, got busy cleaning up the debris, and then were adamant that we also needed to make a donation – there were those who couldn’t return home.


Maybe being close to a situation makes us appreciate the needs of others a little more clearly? (Here’s a copywriting test idea for you – design a package from the perspective of a beneficiary to let the reader truly feel what it’s like to stand in their shoes. Maybe we can share the results on another post.)


Please share with us your experience and if you need to omit any the Florence-impacted zips on your NFL orders, we are ready to help.    


For updated information on areas with disrupted mail services, you can visit