“It makes a HUGE difference to be able to send out physical mailings in such a simple, fast, and eye-catching manner.”
Lang Haynes, Communications and Development Coordinator, Homestart
For over 26 years, Homestart has been helping residents in the Greater Boston area who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability to regain and maintain a stable home– safe, affordable housing connected to a community of support. The organization has assisted over 14,000 individuals living on the street or in shelters and has prevented thousands of families from losing their homes. With only a small, streamlined Admin and Development team and a broad network of advocates and case managers, they provide aid and guidance to residents living at or below the poverty line, including single parents and their children, victims of domestic violence, veterans, and persons with disabilities. This non-profit direct mail case study reviews how Homestart has deployed automated direct mail to drive donations, event registration, and branding.
Services provided by Homestart include housing search, stabilization (helping residents stay in their homes), and aid for people already involved in court proceedings associated with eviction for non-payment. It is an innovative approach to a problem affecting millions of people in cities everywhere.
When tenants face eviction, Homestart assigns an advocate who will accompany them to court and negotiate with the landlord to establish a payment plan. The aim is to pay the property owner what tenants owe them through funds from Homestart, government assistance, and the tenant’s own resources. The organization only intervenes in cases of eviction due to non-payment of rent. In Boston, the average amount of unpaid rent is only $1,400.
Homestart also works with tenants for at least a year to address issues that impact their ability to stay in the home, such as literacy, mental health, or substance abuse. The focus is on homelessness, but many factors affect tenants’ ability to pay the rent and the landlord’s desire to keep their properties occupied.
The program works and everyone wins. Ninety-eight percent of Homestart’s stabilization clients are still in their homes a year later. Property owners like the program because Homestart negotiates a settlement for back rent. It costs landlords three to five times more to evict non-paying residents than it does to stop the eviction and keep the units occupied. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts can spend up to $30,000 to house a family in a shelter or motel for a year, so evictions prevented by Homestart saves money for the state. And of course, the residents benefit from Homestart by staying in their homes, which prevents them from experiencing all the negative aspects of homelessness that just make their situations worse.
Government programs supply funds, but a non-profit operation like Homestart relies on contributions from corporations, foundations, and individuals to pay for a good percentage of the services they provide. Some government grants require matching private contributions, so continuous efforts to attract donors are a vital effort at Homestart. Their primary strategy for private donations is attracting targeted individuals to fundraising events where they learn more about Homestart’s impact on the community and are likely to make contributions.
Homestart has an email contact list, but reaching donors purely by electronic channels is difficult. People regularly abandon email addresses or change jobs, making email delivery questionable. The glut of electronic communications, along with avoidance mechanisms like filters, can prevent recipients from even seeing some email messages.
Homestart needed to bolster the performance of their electronic messaging efforts and get the attention of their target audience. Adding non-profit direct mail was an obvious choice.
Homestart had tried direct mail in the past and encountered the challenges experienced by all small organizations. Minimum job size requirements from service providers and high per-piece costs forced them to manage mailings themselves. These lengthy projects took time away from the organization’s mission.
“Every moving part in a direct mail project takes time and people to manage,” pointed out Lang Haynes who oversees Homestart’s direct mail efforts, “Simplifying those operations is really valuable for a small team.”
Postalytics had previously contributed mailing services to Homestart’s silent auction fundraiser events. The organization was familiar with Postalytics, so when it came time to use direct mail for event promotion, they knew who to call. The solution offered something different — affordable, on-demand direct mail without the need for complex and lengthy production schedules.
Postalytics’ easy-to-use system provided Homestart with the tools they needed to produce eye-catching postcards that connect with potential donors and encourage them to attend Homestart’s events. The Homestart team uses Postalytics’ built-in document design editor and campaign management system to create the pieces, upload their mailing lists, and execute campaigns. Sometimes they do creative work in Canva and upload their custom images to Postalytics.
Homestart adds Postalytics-generated QR codes to the postcards, which connect donors to digital landing pages where they can register for an event or donate.
Cindy Rubin, Director of Philanthropy at Homestart was impressed by how easy it was to do a direct mail campaign with Postalytics, while still giving the team so much control over the design and the process. She registered for an event using the QR code on a Postalytics postcard and was pleased by how easy it was. “We had to send this out,” she said. “We needed something tangible to put into people’s hands. Both digital and physical mail are essential.”
Using the personalized postcard format, this mailpiece is designed to inform the audience of Homestart’s virtual event, “A Virtual Community Gathering To End And Prevent Homelessness”. The goal of the front of the postcard is to inform the audience of the event and to persuade them to register.
The postcard conveys the importance of Homestart’s mission and tugs at the emotions of the audience with headlines that make the audience feel they’re in the battle to end homelessness together with the professionals at Homestart.
The back of the postcard builds upon the messaging from the front, reminding the audience about the mission of Homestart. It also includes a strong call to action to join the free lunchtime virtual gathering. with a QR code that enables the recipient to immediately register for the event and to donate.
The COVID-19 pandemic created caused tremendous problems in the homeless community, many of whom battle underlying health conditions that put them at more serious risk of infection. Crowded shelters in a time that calls for social distancing causes great stress to the residents and case workers who work with the population.
To respond to the growing crisis, the Homestart team was able to very quickly generate a simple, but powerful postcard and get it in the hands of their audience within days.
This simple postcard is designed to convey the seriousness of the situation that the homeless population and the Homestart team that works with them found themselves in. The ability of the small team to turn on a dime and deliver this powerful message to their donor list helped drive donations that saved countless lives.
Attribution in multi-channel marketing is always difficult. Donors do not always act directly from the postcards, but Homestart believes the direct mail reinforces messages they issue in electronic channels. The mailpieces remind people about upcoming events they may have read about in other communications, prompting them to register or donate.
“Other mailings, not associated with event registrations, are also important. It reminds people we are here and gets our branding into their homes — hopefully on their refrigerators,” noted Homestart Director of Community Engagement Carrie Neff.
Mr. Haynes recognized recipients are always going to see the branding and message on a postcard, even if they don’t save it or take immediate action. He predicted Homestart would use postcards more often, such as to augment more complex mailings, because the Postalytics process was so easy.
The staff at Homestart appreciated the quick turnaround. Once they started using Postalytics, they could design and execute the campaign and get the mail delivered to donors at exactly the right time.
Another benefit important to Homestart is the intelligent mail barcode data provided by Postalytics. They can use data provided by the barcode tool about undeliverable or changed addresses to update the Homestart databases.
Homestart is expanding their services to other parts of the state. They have also supplied technical assistance to the City of Detroit to help them implement programs like Homestart.
The organization intends to expand their leadership role in eviction prevention and advocate for systemic changes in the conditions that lead to homelessness and all the problems that come with it. They also plan to increase efforts to educate more property owners and get them involved in Homestart’s work. This expanded set of services will create a larger audience for their targeted non-profit direct mail campaigns.
When COVID-19 started affecting in-person meetings, Homestart had to find ways to connect with the people who supplied an essential portion of the non-profit’s funding. Direct mail, made simple and effective with Postalytics, has helped fill that gap.
Postalytics made it possible for the small team at Homestart to quickly spin up powerful non-profit direct mail campaigns to drive donations and event registrations. They’re able to use a trusted channel in a new, modern way, and without the overhead associated with traditional direct mail marketing.
Job losses because of the pandemic could have triggered an avalanche of new homeless cases. The mandated moratoriums on evictions temporarily lessened the impact. However, as the moratoriums expire, organizations like Homestart expect to be especially busy and will need donor support to continue providing services essential to the communities they serve. Direct mail will play an important role in these efforts.