You are probably not sending enough direct mail

I teach webinars at CharityHowTo one of them called “Your Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Direct Mail Appeals That Motivate Donors to Give and Give Again.” (I think you can guess what it’s about.)

In that direct mail focused webinar, I always start by polling attendees on how many direct mail appeals they send per year. I’ve done this many dozens of times. The results vary a bit time to time, but they are always close to this:

How many direct mail appeals do you send per year?

Zero 10%
1 or 2 45%
3 or 4 30%
5+ 15%

It’s not a scientific poll. But I think it captures a reality of direct mail fundraising: a large majority of organizations send four or fewer direct mail pieces a year. More than half send two or fewer. In fact, this poll — of a self-selected group from organizations that are able and willing to pay for training — probably likely skews toward more direct mail than is typical.

Which leads me to a conclusion: Most fundraisers are sending too little direct mail.

To listen to the discussion, many fundraisers are living in fear that they are sending too much mail, and their donors are one step away from rising up in angry rebellion against the onslaught on their mailboxes.

This includes many fundraisers who send only one or two pieces per year.

Let me give you some comfort:

If you are sending four or fewer pieces a year, it’s nearly certain that you are far from sending too much. In fact you are probably not making the net revenue you could, and your donor retention is lower than it could be.

The “too much mail” discussion is dominated by large national fundraisers, nearly all of which send 12 or more pieces (sometimes a lot more) annually.

Let’s put them aside. They have the resources to learn whether they are sending too much or not on their own.

If you are in the <4 group, I strongly recommend that you add one or two direct mail appeals to your lineup in the coming year. Assuming you’re doing a good job in the first place, here is what will happen:

  • You will get more revenue, including more net revenue.
  • Donor retention will improve. Donors “retain” by donating. Give them more opportunities to donate, and more of them will.
  • Return on Investment (ROI) will almost certainly go down. This is the case whether you increase from one to two appeals or from 20 to 21. Mailings get less efficient. If the other two numbers are good and going up, a drop in ROI is not a bad thing.

How do you know if your added appeal has crossed the line and is now too many?

  • If net revenue drops.
  • If donor retention drops. You won’t know this for some months, but you should be checking retention regularly.

There’s another reason you may find yourself sending too many appeals. It has nothing to do with donors or revenue: You may not have the resources (human or financial) to send as many appeals as you could. Direct mail is a ton of time-intensive work. It can wreck your life, and keep you away from other important duties.

If that’s your situation — and it is for many organizations — it may be time to look into hiring or outsourcing to help you maximize revenue. The smaller your organization, the more significant this barrier can be.

In a nutshell: It’s far more likely that you are sending too little direct mail fundraising than too much.

Read a lot more on this important topic at Of Course You Can Ask Too Much (but you almost certainly aren’t) at the Better Fundraising Blog.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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