The US postal crisis, the upcoming US election and how it could affect autumn fundraising campaigns
As if 2020 hasn’t given the fundraising sector enough to deal with, the current US postal crisis and the upcoming US election are giving organisations one more hurdle to overcome before this year finally draws to a close. While these concerns are mostly for those leading appeals from within the US, these challenges should also be on the radar of international organisations who are planning year-end appeals for US audiences.
In this blog, we’ve provided a breakdown of the current US postal crisis, how it could affect the result of autumn appeals and ways to overcome potential challenges that lie ahead.
The US postal crisis - what's happening?
For a deep dive into the US postal crisis, this article from the New York Post gives a pretty good overview of the current situation. What’s important to understand for the purposes of this blog is that the US Postal Service will be overwhelmed in the lead up to the 2020 US election. Getting ahead of potential delays could be the deciding factor of what makes or breaks your organisation’s autumn campaign results.
What’s causing the USPS to be overwhelmed?
1: Higher than average postal voting - Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, many US voters will be opting for postal votes where possible to avoid voting in person. This means that the postal service will have to dispense a higher than usual volume of mail, which could cause delays.
2: Political direct mail - While lots of political advertising happens digitally and through TV advertising, direct mail is still a viable option for getting the word out during an election. So while your autumn direct mail appeal may normally land on doorsteps unchallenged, it could be that this year it ends up in a pile of what may be considered junk mail and ignored. The sheer volume of anticipated political direct mail could also cause your mailing to be delayed as you fight for the resources of both printing vendors and bulk-mail postal houses.
3: Delays due to budget cuts - As with most businesses and services, budgets are tight, causing staff to be furloughed or made redundant. For the USPS, this means that there are fewer employees available to handle the volume of mail processing that’s required to maintain normal rates.
The takeaway message - fundraising appeals being sent via direct mail may be delayed. So what can your organisation do right now to get ahead?
How to prepare for potential challenges
If you haven’t already, speak to your printing vendor and mailing house to discuss concerns around what factors could affect possible delays. Due to the increase in political mailings, your vendor could find themselves stretched to capacity and if unaware as to the urgency of your appeal it could be pushed if not prioritised.
Make sure all team members are communicating and remote working doesn’t get in the way of effective project management. If central marketing colleagues are assisting with the production of the mailing, check-in to understand what other priorities they may also have on their plate and how that may affect their ability to complete tasks on time. Also, be flexible with these team members as they may be being pulled in multiple directions.
Consider moving the date of your appeals forward to avoid delays. This is mostly to do with the current capacity issues of the USPS, however, as this year’s US presidential election is expected to be especially polarising, the result of the election could affect a donors ability or willingness to give.
Digital is now the ‘it’ word of the moment so it might be a good time to test combining your direct mail appeal with a digital approach. Depending on the appeal, additional asks made via email or social media advertising could increase the response rate to your appeal. This could also work particularly well if your organisation is planning to run an autumn giving day.
Keep an eye out for signs of delays. The likelihood that your organisation’s appeal could be affected by possible delays may be linked to where your organisation is based. Those locations that are swing states, have high population densities, are expecting a heavy volume of political advertising or likely to be flooded by postal ballots may be more affected than others.
If there is flexibility in the budget, consider sending your appeal by first-class mail. It could increase the likelihood that appeals are delivered on time and prioritised.
Due to the volume of mail being sent, the USPS may be harsher than usual on mailing regulations and standards. Make sure that you are up-to-date on the latest bulk mail regulations and speak to your agency to see if they have any tips for adjusting your direct mail so that it isn’t stopped in its tracks.
While it’s a tactic that has been underutilised in the past, many organisations are using QR codes to encourage online giving. The benefit of using a QR code is that it can be customised to suit a particular segment, making donating more personalised and easier for donors.
Second, to the suggestion of QR codes, is making sure that postal appeals provide a call to action that encourages donors to make their gift online. Many donors are now happy to make payments online and it may suit their comfort level to have the option to give online. If reply slips account for a large proportion of responses, consider also including a pre-paid postage return envelope.
Pay attention to the data and be agile. Evaluating your current campaign performance against the results of previous appeals is a useful way to understand if results are what’s to be expected or if adjustments need to be made.
Finally, make sure that the messaging of your appeal is flexible and mission-centric. With the ongoing COVID crisis, as well as social justice issues and adverse weather crises happening in the US a lot can change from the point that your mailing is approved and when it actually reaches donors.
Stay informed about how the current postal crisis could affect the results of your organisation's autumn appeals and make sure to take the necessary steps now to avoid possible challenges. If we’ve learned anything from the last six months it’s that thinking ahead and preparing for all possible outcomes creates a more agile and responsive approach to fundraising.
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