Fundraising with Direct Mail: What Every Small Non-Profit Needs to Know

Fundraising with Direct Mail

A solid development plan used to rise and set around direct mail, and while the fundraising channels available today are many (email, text, social media, etc.), direct mail can still be an important part of your plan. Your direct mail campaign(s) should be an integrated part of your overall communication and fundraising strategy.


Begin with Good Data. Solid data management is the bedrock of good fundraising and effective direct mail. Today it is very easy to personalize, so never send a letter to “Dear friend”. They need to feel like you know them enough to use their name. As best as you can, track relationships; Bob and Jane are married (Mr. & Mrs.), but Jane and Tom are mother and son (not Mr. and Mrs.). Capture birth dates when you can, so that registered event participant that is 5 years old doesn’t get an appeal. Split your list so you can acknowledge how they are connected to you. For consistent givers, lead with a thank you for their ongoing support. For those that have lapsed, make a compelling case for why they should come back. For those that have never given, draw them in to your mission and let them know that even a small gift makes a big difference.


Cut through the Clutter with Layered Messaging. Today we are constantly bombarded with information – email, text, five different social media platforms, cable, Netflix! For your message to get through, it needs to be delivered more than once, through diverse methods. Plan a layered communication strategy… Build a ‘campaign page’ on your website that mirrors the core message of your letter. Shoot a brief, 2-minute video to share on social media. Send an email that will arrive within a few days of the expected letter arrival. Write a blog post that speaks to the same core message that is within your email appeal. Plan social media posts in and around the letter timing, to lift the message. The days of a one-and-done letter being effective are gone. When you are sick of hearing the message, it will begin to penetrate your audience.


Make a Compelling Case & Cast them as the Hero. It is one thing to ask for money and quite another to invite people to join you in making a very real difference. Are you ‘selling to them’ or offering them an amazing opportunity to partner with you for change? Think about what your donors care about and then explain what you are doing about it; you must capture their heart before they open their wallet. And a good direct mail appeal will answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” and “Why should I care?” for the donor.


Keep it Simple & Be Concise. People today are scanners. When they open your letter, if it is a sea of black type, long paragraphs with no ‘design’, then they’ll lay it down and never read it, or just scan the first sentence of a few paragraphs and miss your core message. Just like a good sauce needs to be boiled down, reduce your message to as few words as possible. That means edit, then edit again. Use short paragraphs and bullet points. And always include a call-out box or a P.S. that hits your main point; these are always read first.


Make it as Easy as Possible for them to Reply. Include a self-addressed envelope with postage on it if you can. (A US Postal Service indicia makes it easy and allows you to only pay for those that are returned.) But also make it easy for them to give online by including a direct and memorable URL that goes directly to your donation page.


Test & Measure. Learn and grow by reviewing each campaign, processing what you’ve learned and responding to feedback. What percentage of people responded? How many gave online as a direct response? (This is easy to track if you create a custom URL and have analytics on your website. If you don’t yet have these capabilities, then simply assessing if you had an increase in online donations while your campaign is happening can give you some indication.) What number of donors responded to each list and what was the average gift size? What did you spend on the production and mailing vs. the return received?


Let Them Know You Care About More Than Their Wallet. A good direct mail campaign is part of a comprehensive communication strategy. Ensure you are communicating with your community year-round, sharing the successes made possible through their support. Invite donors/potential donors to participate in events, volunteer, receive your newsletter or follow your blog. But you also need to respect their wishes. Give them the opportunity to ‘opt out’ of communications they don’t want, while still receiving the ones they do.


Direct mail still matters. Take the time to be strategic and intentional with your direct mail efforts and you will see return on your investment; your community will grow and your fundraising results will be strengthened.