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“Direct Mail is for Older Alumni and Texting is for Recent Grads.” ... Is it True?

September 9, 2022

Many myths that are perpetuated throughout the higher education advancement arena can inhibit the ability of fundraisers to inspire philanthropy. One very common myth is that texting is for more recent graduates and direct mail is for older alumni. At Shift Fundraising, given the volume of text messages and mailers clients send using our platform, we know that every channel of communication is a beneficial one; however, there is some nuance in the research. Let’s review.

“Text messaging is for younger alumni.”

In a study designed by Convio in 2010 based on an online survey of 1,526 donors mirroring the demographics of American donors, donors aged 45 and younger were far more likely to give via text for Haiti relief efforts than their older counterparts. Only 3% of donors aged 46 and over reported sending a text contribution to relief efforts, compared with 17% of donors aged 19 to 29 and 14% of donors aged 30 to 45. So texting does seem to be for a younger audience after all?  Not exactly. 

Things are changing so fast that any research on charitable giving published just a few years ago will not represent the philanthropic behaviors of specific age groups that we see today. According to Pew Research, in 2012, only 34% and 13% of people 50-64 and 65+, respectively, even owned a smartphone. Contrast that with 2021, when 61% of people who are 65 and older and 83% of people who are 50-64 owned a smartphone. The significant rise in smartphone use is also resulting in more texting. According to a 2019 AARP survey, among those aged 50-69, text messaging has overtaken email as the tech tool most used to stay connected. Take a look at the demographic trend in smartphone use highlighted below.

Older demographics are communicating via text more and more, so it is certainly no surprise that donations made using mobile devices have increased 205% in the last year. Donors were rarely giving via text in the early 2010’s, but they are much more likely to do so in the 2020’s. If you haven’t been using text to communicate with your older alumni, you are missing a major trend in donor behavior and the cost of not doing so is growing by the year!

Younger alumni don’t read mail, or even open it”

This is an easy one to believe - of course you should only send mail to our older alumni, right? Younger alumni are digital natives, so they don’t open, read or respond to direct mail, right?  Surprisingly, the evidence supports the opposite. 

Throughout years of experience and thousands of campaigns we've found that millennials have been and continue to be influenced by mailers. USPS cites a survey of Millennials in which 75 percent of respondents indicated that personal mail makes them feel special. Instead of excluding younger constituents from direct mail outreach, we should remember that many of them actually appreciate and pay attention to it.

Youth perception and attention to direct mail may also be due to the fact that direct mail volumes have declined precipitously since the peak of first-class mail in 2001. People don’t receive as much mail as they once did. Meanwhile, everyone’s email inboxes are inundated with ads and promotions, so much so that even digital-first ecommerce brands like Wayfair and HelloFresh are sending mailers to complement their digital marketing strategies. Direct mail is definitely not dead, and it may actually be a more successful medium now than it has been in recent decades.

Overall, there is no question that decisions must be made about the modality, sequence, and frequency of our outreach, but we can dismiss these two common texting and direct mail myths. Don’t pump the brakes on well coordinated multichannel campaigns, hit the accelerator!

As always, if you need help, contact us at Shift Fundraising.

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