20 Tips for Effective Direct Mail Fundraising

Online giving is the fastest growing direct marketing fundraising channel for nonprofits, but direct mail still accounts for the vast majority of funds raised. Of the nonprofits included in Target Analytics’ 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report, direct mail comprised 79% of giving, while online accounted for just 10%.

And so as direct mail remains an essential part of good membership development, it’s important for nonprofits to know how to use this most powerful direct response fundraising tool well. Here are some proven tips for effective direct mail fundraising to keep in mind:

  1. Ask early and often. State your first ask on the first page of your letter, and reiterate it throughout your narrative.
  2. Write a long letter. Two pages should be your minimum, four is often better than two, and six or more can be even better. Never send a one-page letter.
  3. Include a reply device with a concise, compelling recap of your case for support and call to action.
  4. Personalize your gift ask based on the donor’s previous giving.
  5. Get your website in order before you mail. Studies continue to affirm the significant impact of direct mail in driving online donations. A recent study conducted on behalf of Dunham+Company by Campell Rinker showed that 17 percent of donors who gave on a charity website in 2011 said that a direct mail letter prompted their online gift. Moreover 50 percent of donors surveyed in 2012 said they prefer to give online when they receive a letter in the mail from a charity.
  6. Tell stories that demonstrate human impact and connect with the reader on an emotional level.
  7. Don’t be afraid to lose the teaser. In many cases, a teaser-free envelope will work better than an envelope with one, and it will always work better than an envelope with a forced (a.k.a. mediocre) teaser.
  8. Spend as little as possible on your direct mail.
  9. Make your fundraising message about the donor, not about yourself.
  10. Mail when everyone else is. It may be tempting to send your year-end appeal ahead of everyone else to avoid mailbox competition, but in reality it’s not an advantage to be in the mail when other organizations aren’t mailing. Your mail can get just as lost in an empty mailbox as it can in a stuffed one. Mail when your donors want to hear from you.
  11. Break your brand guidelines.
  12. Test for impact. Only test things that you think have the potential to make a real difference in your program. If you can’t think of a meaningful test, think harder.
  13. Include a P.S. in your letter that restates the ask and call to action.
  14. Keep your design simple. Direct mail isn’t advertising; it’s letters.
  15. Keep your direct mail under an ounce unless your audience dictates greater investment in postage.
  16. Check your instincts at the door. Good direct mail is counterintuitive; rely on known techniques and best practices to guide your strategy.
  17. Look critically at how often you are mailing to identify missed opportunities, and then consider mailing more. For example if your newsletter raises as much or more than your direct mail, then you’re probably not soliciting often enough by direct mail. Or if you are still netting revenue on the last notice of your membership renewal series, then you should add a notice.
  18. Target your messages. No matter how great your letter is, if you mail it to the wrong lists/segments, it will bomb.
  19. Above all else, get the mail out. 90% perfect and 100% on time is always better than 100% perfect and 90% on time.
  20. Give. You can’t fully appreciate the direct mail donor mindset unless you yourself are one. Plus it feels great helping nonprofits you care about!



3 Comments on 20 Tips for Effective Direct Mail Fundraising

  1. Moira,

    Great article and useful tips!

    I there information available that can assist a non profit organization with measuring its potential for a direct mail campaign when mission, location, organization history, etc. are known?

    • admin says:

      Hi Michael,
      Check out the Association of Direct Response Fundraising Counsel (www.adrfco.org) and the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (www.dmfa.org) for information on direct mail fundraising and how to test your potential for direct mail fundraising.Thanks for reading! – Moira

  2. Kevin Davis says:

    Thanks for the article. What is the advantage of having a longer letter? As a reader, 6 pages seems a little overwhelming.

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