World Wildlife Fund Roars as the King of the Direct Marketing Jungle

Submitted by: Joan MacKenzie 02/01/2012

WWF relies heavily on direct mail for membership base

December 2011

Mindy Charski


The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) serves to protect the future of nature, and that mission doesnt come cheap. Fundraising is critical for the conservation group, and though it has diversified its marketing efforts over the past 8 years with vehicles like e-mail and direct response television, WWF relies heavily on direct mail.

Mail is an integral part of our fundraising efforts, says Antoinette Dack, director of WWFs direct response marketing. The Washington, D.C.based nonprofit, which works in over 100 countries, has 1.2 million members in the United States and nearly 5 million globally. WWF sends about 36 million pieces of mail in the United States each year, which bring in about 65% of its membership revenue.

Undeniably, its mail efforts are immense, but the strategies it continues to perfect are worthy of emulation by direct marketers of all sizes. The group mails about 18 million pieces a year to active members. It uses statistical and data mining models to select recipients for mailings based on multiple variables like past giving and interaction with the organization.

Our donors behavior determines our interaction with them, Dack says. Active members receive six newsletters a year, and they will likely be sent a few topical appeals focusing on a specific conservation program. Other appeals may include WWFs popular calendar or greeting cards. Renewal mailers round out the campaigns. Mail sent to WWFs members generally garners an average 3.5% response rate. Acquisition response is lower the approximately 14 million pieces WWF sends to prospects annually have an average 1.47% response rate. (It also sends about 4 million pieces to lapsed members, which have an average 1.80% response rate.) Given the high cost of acquisition, the group aims to send out the most economical package that still gets the job done. Thats usually an envelope with an order card and a multi-page letter explaining WWFs mission and what its asking the prospect to do. Sometimes packages include labels, decals, or a calendar that prospects can keep and proudly display, says Dack. 

Green IntegrationWWF, which handles its direct efforts in-house, often uses the lists of other environmental groups.

Your best prospect donors are going to come from like-minded causes, Dack says. The pool of names from environmental lists is limited; for this reason WWF mails to various list markets, such as animal welfare, health and magazine subscribers.

 We continuously test new lists and cooperative list databases to expand our pool of prospect donors, Dack says. Thats hardly the only testing the group does, however. We always test to see how we can outperform our last best performance, Dack says. Every month there are at least three to five different acquisition tests going on, for instance. They might test a different creative or the ask string logic for particular segments.

WWF also tests ways to integrate channels. We have found that when you build integrated campaigns across channels, it tends to lift overall performance, Dack says. The group might send an appeal and follow up with a phone call, for instance, or it might reverse the process. It may also send an e-mail with an embedded video as a follow-up to a similar-themed mail piece. Meanwhile, some mailings drive a number of online responses, like WWFs annual gift catalog that includes symbolic species adoptions.

Ultimately, the focus on using donor dollars smartly is a priority for WWF. While the group spent 12% of its total expenses on fundraising in fiscal 2011 or $27.6 million it was able to put 83% of its spending toward programs that help fulfill its ambitious mission, like protecting tigers in Indonesia and studying climate change. Greening Up the Mail Tips WWF honors the eco-friendly convictions of its donors when it produces and sends mail. Were very cautious about the materials we use. We try to minimize the number of pieces that we use, and we try to select donors in a smarter way through modeling so we dont have to send you more pieces than we should, says Antoinette Dack, director of WWFs direct response marketing.

Your organization can follow in the same direction by building your own models, only printing mailers you know youll send, and using good list hygiene. As for green-minded materials, here are some tips from Amy Tripi, president of Tripi Consulting in Highland, N.Y., which helps nonprofits with their fundraising efforts:

  •  Use paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes responsible forest management. You can specify recycled chlorine-free papers, anywhere from 10% recycled to 100% post-consumer waste, Tripi says. There are also papers with alternative fibers like bamboo, ground stone and, yes, even elephant dung.
  • Select envelopes that dont have plastic over the windows.
  •  Opt for soy- or vegetable-based inks over oil-based inks.