How to tell if direct mail is a viable fundraising medium for you

Why direct mail is great for many fundraisers

  • It’s where most charitable giving is happening today. Direct mail where the action is. If you want to make the big time in fundraising, you probably need to be involved in direct mail.
  • It makes other media work. Direct mail is the best driver of online giving. It’s part of the transaction in most telefundraising. If direct mail were to “die,” all other fundraising would be in serious trouble too.
  • It’s relatively predictable. You can pencil out with some accuracy how things will go with a well-run direct mail program. Easier to budget for than other media.
  • It has a stable and well-established canon of best practices. Hire experienced direct mail fundraising writers and designers, and you can expect a solid and likely-to-perform product.

Why direct mail might not be for you

  • Entry cost. Getting started is the hard part. You will go into the red when you start. If you’re lucky, you’ll start turning a profit after a year.
  • Quantity/cost. Direct mail is least affordable (on a per.jpgece basis) at low quantities. If you have a file of fewer than 5,000 donors, the numbers may not work out. You will struggle to make it work, even if your results are strong.
  • Universe. If your universe of potential donors is narrow — because of psychographics (such as left-handed gun-owners who eat gluten free) or geography (such as residents of the upper west side of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle) — it may be impossible to build a direct-mail file that’s big enough to work.
  • Best practices are weird. Your boss or some other authorities may want to make you do it all wrong! This factor torpedoes many direct mail fundraising programs.

If you’re considering diving into direct mail, take a look at these factors and make sure it’s possible for it to eventually be a profitable source of income.

(This post first appeared on October 26, 2016.)


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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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