Nonprofit Fundraising: The Case for Direct Mail
When you go to the ice cream shop, there are lots of choices. Mocha almond crunch and raspberry swirl. A rainbow of gelatos. And vanilla. Always vanilla.
It’s an old favorite that never gets overshadowed by tempting new flavors.
Sort of like direct mail. Even as the ways we can reach out to our donors grow, direct mail stays a top choice for fundraisers.
All those new mediums — social, email, and pay-per-click — are valuable and effective. But direct mail is the foundation for most fundraising efforts. Here are a few reasons it remains so important.
Less mail equals more attention
People get far less direct mail than email, and that makes it easier to pay attention to what’s delivered through the real mailbox versus the virtual one. The USPS says that people on average get about 550 pieces of direct mail a year — about 100 pieces from nonprofits. That’s about two pieces a week. Most of us get dozens of emails every day (working folk get about 120). We open about a quarter of our emails; we read or scan about 40 percent of our mail.
Mail is more flexible
Where and when do you look at your mail? Maybe it is after work when you can sit down put your feet up and see what the mailman brought. It’s a welcomed break when you look at a computer all day. And, if we’re in a rush, we can always set the mail aside to read later — in fact, in some homes, mail lays around for a couple of weeks. That gives other people in the household the chance to give it a look too. More eyeballs means our message has a broader reach.
Direct mail can be more engaging
When you take a walk, you smell the spring flowers, you feel the crunch of gravel under your feet, you see blue jays arguing in the trees, you touch the blossoms on the dogwood tree. You might even taste ice cream if you stop for a snack along the way. The more senses are engaged, the more we remember experiences, scientists say. Delivered mail is more engaging than email. We walk to the mailbox, we touch and tear open envelopes, we hear the glue give way and the pages of a letter rustle. The faint scents of ink and paper float up.
Direct mail can give more details
We are used to reading stories in books. A direct mail letter’s format reminds us of pages of a book or magazine. It’s a familiar reading format.
An 8.5 by 11 page, front and back, gives us plenty of room to tell a compelling story and to ask (several times — maybe in the intro, the middle and the P.S.) for a gift, with room left to include a tear-off donation form. Or, a donation card can be enclosed for letters that are longer or that use photos or other graphics to add more visual interest and information.
Direct mail can be a team player
Direct mail works well with other forms of communication. A direct mail letter that includes some sort of link to an online donation landing page can be a very effective combination. Donors of all ages say they like to learn about a nonprofit by reading its direct mail fundraising materials and then go online to make a gift. Direct mail used in combination with an email and a website can be more powerful. Including options to click, scan or text to reach a donation page can literally pay off.
Like vanilla ice cream — which has proven itself a team player as it joins up with bananas and whipped cream and toppings in a banana split or with hot fudge and a cherry for a sundae — direct mail is happy to join up with other communication tools.
3 ways to improve your direct mail fundraising pieces
Change your envelope design
Could you dress up your envelope in some fashion but retain an air of mystery? Experts warn to not include an overt fundraising message on your envelope, but perhaps instead include a question or phrase that makes people curious. And, the more personal your envelope appears, the better. Pick a realistic handwritten font for example, and an unexpected ink color (one that’s readable though). If your letter concerns a current and pressing need that donors will identify with and likely want to support — say relief funds after a devastating hurricane or tornado — it might not hurt to use a newsy message like, “Help your neighbors who’ve lost their homes to Hurricane Dan.”
Vary the size of your envelope.
Most fundraising letters are mailed in a #10 envelope, for good reason — it’s the perfect fit for the 8.5 by 11 stationery used most often for letters. But depending on the message you are sending, you could opt for a smaller envelope. Smaller envelopes convey a more personal message. That’s why thank-you notes are often sent in small envelopes. There are a lot of ways to thank a donor. Instead of a thank-you letter to a donor, consider a thank-you note.
Personalize as much as possible.
The more information you collect about your donors, the better able you will be to personalize your direct mail. A lot of nonprofits use their data to remind a donor how much they’ve given in the past, the amount of their last gift or how many years they have supported the organization. When you collect birthdates, it’s easy to send birthday greetings. It’s a nice way to emphasize how much your organization appreciates its supporters and to reach out to them without overtly asking for a donation.
Direct mail can go beyond fundraising letters
Sending direct mail newsletters with updates about projects, thank-you notes, invitations to special events, birthday greetings — all are ways to connect with donors. Donors like to hear from the organizations they support for other reasons. Not every message has to be about giving.
If you’d like to talk to us about these and other ways to use direct mail to connect with your donors, give us a call or send us an email.
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