5 ways to make direct mail fundraising work

In fundraising, the Big Lie of the decade (actually the last couple of decades) is that direct mail is dying.

It’s not. It’s more difficult (and expensive) than it used to be, but it’s still a powerful way to stay connected with donors. If you’re avoiding direct mail or just barely dabbling in it, check out this useful post from Common Sense for Uncommon Fundraising, at Don’t Be Afraid to Try Direct Response:

  1. Plan your entire direct response activity before you begin. Direct mail works best when it works with other channels. When you plan your mailing, make sure you also plan related emails (make sure it’s several of them!), telephone followups, social media posts, and anything else that can support the message.
  2. Only use partners who have expertise in direct mail. Save yourself a lot of money, time, and agony by using the services of writers, designers, and printers who are experienced with direct mail. It’s not a forgiving medium for people who are figuring it out for the first time!
  3. Talk to the donor in your copy, not to your board chair or CEO. If the boss and board love what you’ve written, you should probably go back to the drawing board. Motivating donors is a very different task from making the boss feel good.
  4. Avoid the temptation to think you have to create an award-winning package. It’s weird, but the things you do to win awards are almost always directly opposed to the things you do to motivate donors. Make your award the support of donors and the revenue that means.
  5. Mail consistently. Most fundraisers are leaving a lot of revenue on the table by only sending one or two appeals per year. And it’s not just short-term revenue they’re losing — it’s also future revenue, because sending few appeals means lower donor retention. If y you’re afraid of over-mailing, you’re afraid of the wrong thing. Not many organizations ever get anywhere close to over-mailing.


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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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