Saving trees saves money at DAR

Posted on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Development and Alumni Relations’ Derek Cassoff (left) and Daniel Chonchol check their Blackberries for recent DAR communications in front of a pile of old printed material. / Photo: Owen Egan

By Neale McDevitt

There is a common misconception that the problem with adopting sustainable work practices is they are both expensive and inconvenient. The people at Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) would gladly tell you otherwise.

Of the approximately 215,000 McGill alumni scattered around the world, DAR has contact information for about 145,000. And contact them, DAR does. In its effort to maintain, nurture and build relationships with University friends, alumni and donors, DAR traditionally would do hundreds of thousands of mailings a year – magazines, newsletters, reports and a myriad of printed information about comprehensive campaigns and fundraising initiatives. The McGill News alone had 180,000 copies printed and shipped to alumni four times a year. “I can’t even guess at the number of trees that were used in all our printed material back then,” said Derek Cassoff, DAR’s Director of Strategic Communications.

Today trees, though not entirely off the hook, can breathe significantly easier, as Cassoff and his team have radically revamped their communication strategy to take full advantage of digitization.

The alumni contact list has been divided in two – people with email addresses and those without. The latter still receive all their communication material in hardcopy via post while the former group – about half of all McGill alumni – receive an electronic version via email unless they specify that they want to continue getting printed material.

Some items, such as the Parents Newsletter – which goes out twice a year to some 7,000 people – have been eliminated in hardcopy altogether. If you don’t have an email address, you just don’t get it.

And the McGill News? It now comes out twice a year in print and once as an e-version only – a reduction of 180,000 copies a year. “We also ask people if they want to opt out of the print altogether and, so far, several hundred alumni have done so,” said Cassoff.

The move to digital has not only significantly reduced DAR’s carbon footprint (Cassoff estimates the average alum who is also a donor has gone from receiving some seven mailings a year to just two) it has also reduced its budget. Paper, printing, handling and postage all come at a tremendous cost, a cost that has been significantly reduced by some $250,000 a year while actually improving efficiency. “Our alumni now can get information instantly, instead of being at the mercy of the mail service,” said Cassoff. “And we’re able to issue smaller pieces of information more frequently. We’re quicker and more nimble than before.”

The shift didn’t come out of the blue, admits Cassoff. Each successive generation of alumni is more comfortable in the digital environment and fully expects to receive most of their communication electronically. But even that is changing, as the social media is gaining momentum at an incredible rate. “Some younger alumni don’t even want emails from us any more. They say ‘If I like you, I’ll follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook and that will give you permission to send me content.’ People can pick and choose the content they want,” said Cassoff.

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