5 Ways to Screw Up Your Next Direct Mail Campaign



The road to direct response fundraising failure is paved with good intentions. Here are five ways you can really harm your direct mail results – so be sure to steer clear of these easily avoidable pitfalls as you start work on your fall appeals:

1. Mail early. If you want to stand out from the crowd, get ahead of them, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way in year end fundraising. Successful direct response fundraising is about the right message, at the right time, to the right people. Sending a message at a time when no one is ready for it all but guarantees a weak response. The fact that organizations send year end appeals in the same timeframe doesn’t mean yours won’t get noticed; it means it’s a timeframe that works.

2. Mail late. Q4 is the single most important time of the year for fundraising. Why jeopardize critical funding for your organization’s programs with poor planning? Get started on your year end appeal in the first week of August.

3. Do something “different.” There’s good different and bad different in direct mail fundraising. Good different, for instance, might be recognizing that your control format isn’t performing as well as it used to and testing a proven direct response technique to help boost results such as hand addressing, or a follow-up reminder notice. Bad different, on the other hand, would be testing a completely unproven direct response idea suggested by someone whose direct response experience consists solely of receiving, and occasionally responding to, direct mail.

4. Make your campaign all about you. “The problem is our donors just don’t understand us. If we could make them understand us, I mean really get us, they’d give more.” Sound familiar? It’s the perennial lament of Development committees – and it’s totally backwards. If you want your campaigns to succeed, stop obsessing about getting your donors to understand you and start obsessing about understanding your donors. Forget about writing the perfect explanation of what your organization does and instead focus on making the perfect connection with your donors.

5. Don’t ask for money. It seems obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to get so caught up in making the case for support that you forget to actually ask for money in your direct mail appeal. Make sure you have a clear, direct ask within the first few paragraphs of your letter and repeat it at least three more times throughout, and definitely in the p.s.

Do you have any do’s and don’ts to share? Cautionary tales? Stunning successes? Questions about improving your direct mail results? By all means, share them here, or drop us a line at topics@nthfactor.com.


2 Comments on 5 Ways to Screw Up Your Next Direct Mail Campaign

  1. John Haydon says:

    Moira – I’m curious what you think about coordinating direct mail with social media? For example, a DM piece could point out something remarkable what’s taking place on their Facebook Page. Or their Facebook Page could run a campaign where fans get to have their avatars included in a tiled-pic in their DM piece.

  2. Moira says:

    Thanks for your comment John! And yes, coordinate, coordinate, coordinate!

    In direct response fundraising, donors who engage with organizations via multiple channels have a greater lifetime value, so every organization should actively seek to get DM donors engaged online and vice versa. We also know that DM has the ability to drive online donations. One organization we work with receives up to 40% of its responses to direct mail prospecting online (i.e. we can directly attribute the motivation for gifts made online to the direct mail piece, which prominently features the URL). This rate will obviously vary based on the organization’s donor demographics.

    In terms of the path between DM and social media, I’ve actually found that DM can more readily drive people to an organization’s website or a donation landing page than it can drive people to a social media site. There are surely exceptions, but generally when we’re talking about engaging people in an online social media campaign, we can best do it via online drivers. But that doesn’t mean that DM doesn’t play an important role in engaging people via social media – it may just happen by way of the organization’s website or donation page. So for instance, while you might reference a coordinating FB campaign in a DM campaign, the donor may be more likely to go to your website and/or donation/landing page for the campaign. However, once on your site and donation form, you would definitely want to integrate interactive pieces (pledges, petitions) and opportunities for them to engage via the coordinated social media campaign (become a fan on FB, post your favorite wildlife photo on flickr, etc).

    I think the collaboration between DM and social media can work in the other direction too. For instance, activism and content generated via social media can play a powerful role in direct mail. Let’s say you collect compelling stories and testimonials on your FB page – these could be used in DM to help tell your story and make your case.

    These are just a few of so many ways to coordinate, and new ways are continually emerging. But however you do it, this kind of channel integration is a vital part of having a robust, forward-moving program. Thanks for reading and for your great question!

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