7 reasons your fundraising direct mail appeal failed

I see a lot of failed appeals. People come to me after they’ve experienced failure, asking “What went wrong?” It’s depressing, but very educational.

Here are the most common characteristics of unsuccessful direct mail fundraising:

  1. You didn’t ask. Few donors take the hint when they read a message that says you exist and do good work. It’s necessary to come right out and say “Please give” if you want people to donate.
  2. You asked, but only once. Asking only once in the course of an appeal is almost like not asking not at all. Readers skim. One ask can easily be missed.
  3. You talked about success, not need. When your appeal is all about the great job you’ve been doing, you inadvertently tell donors, You aren’t needed!
  4. You didn’t say enough to motivate them. Your letter was too short. Your instinct told you that “nobody will read more than a page.” Your instinct may have been right, but one-page letters rarely do well.
  5. You didn’t tell a story. Facts and statistics are important, but they’re bad fundraising. They do a terrible job of moving people to donate. Show them they’re needed by telling a story.
  6. You didn’t give people any reason to open your envelope. An envelope that basically says: There’s an appeal for money in here usually doesn’t do well. It’s far more effective to intrigue people into opening it. It’s not an accident that what’s on the envelope is called a “teaser.”
  7. You sent it to the wrong people. No matter how brilliant your appeal is, if you send it to people who aren’t giving, it won’t work. Here are some groups unlikely to respond:
    • People who have never before given, even if they are on a promising list. New donor acquisition is an investment in the future, not a money-maker.
    • People who gave in memory or honor of someone.
    • Gala or auction attendees.
    • Those whose donation was sponsoring an event participant.
    • Donors who haven’t given in a long time.


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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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About the blogger

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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