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Direct Mail Fundraising for Nonprofits: Tips & Top Providers

A well-crafted, personalized direct mail appeal is one of the most memorable fundraising communications your nonprofit can send.


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The Basics of Direct Mail Fundraising

It can be difficult to parse through all of the information out there about this tried-and-true fundraising method. Let’s start with the basics.

What is direct mail solicitation?

For nonprofits, direct mail solicitation is the process of writing, designing, printing, and distributing hard copy requests for funds to your donors and/or prospective donors. These solicitations arrive in your donors’ mailboxes and provide a tangible, physical connection to your organization.

Who benefits from direct mail fundraising?

As so much of the world has transitioned to the digital space, direct mail has developed a bit of a bad rap. Your nonprofit might speculate about the effectiveness of this “old-fashioned” hard-copy marketing channel. You’ve probably heard some version of these questions:

Who even opens mail anymore?

Aren’t donors more likely to respond to an email?

Don’t direct mail appeals get tossed in a junk pile?

For some people who receive direct mail appeals, these assumptions may be true. But the reality is that direct mail fundraising campaigns can be incredibly effective at raising money for your organization—even more so than email campaigns. Studies show donors are more likely to read a direct mail appeal than an email appeal. Plus, donors believe direct mail is better at telling a touching story and conveying facts than digital methods.

Is direct mail fundraising dead?

No. Direct mail fundraising, especially when well-targeted to your organization’s audience, is nearly always profitable. When executed as part of a comprehensive fundraising strategy, direct mail is an invaluable asset to your nonprofit’s fundraising endeavors.

Direct mail fundraising is an effective fundraising strategy for any fundraising organization, including nonprofits, schools, museums, and associations.

How effective is direct mail fundraising?

According to Ballantine, direct mail response rates hover between 5% and 9%. Compare that to standard email response rates of 1%, and you’ll see why direct mail should be in your nonprofit’s fundraising toolkit.

Direct Mail Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits

1. Know Your Audience

The first and most essential best practice to follow when crafting a direct mail fundraising strategy is to know your audience. The most basic distinction to consider is: are you sending appeals to your housefile or a prospect list?

Housefile

All of your past donors and supporters comprise your nonprofit’s housefile. This list contains people who have demonstrated an interest or a commitment to your cause in the past. When sending appeals to your organization’s housefile, you may be trying to meet a certain fundraising target, steward donors to the next donation tier, or enroll a certain number of donors in a monthly giving program.

Prospect list

A prospect list is what it sounds like: a list of people who have not yet engaged with your organization, but who may be willing to. Prospect lists for direct mail campaigns can be purchased, rented, or traded with other nonprofits. In general, the goal of sending out appeals to prospects is to acquire new donors to add to your housefile.

Beyond these general categories, it’s useful to further segment your audience so you can tailor your appeals to specific groups. After all, personalization is the key to establishing a connection with your donors—the more personal your appeals are, the better positioned your organization is to develop real relationships with the real people on the receiving end. Plus, when recipients feel acknowledged as individuals, they are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility to respond.

Once you’ve segmented your housefile into relevant groups, you’ll be able to catch your donors’ attention with personal references and a tailored tone. Longtime, loyal donors would appreciate a more friendly, intimate style of appeal, while donors with past volunteer involvement might appreciate a reference to their volunteer history.

If you need any more reason to know your audience and tailor your appeals accordingly, studies have found that personalization of fundraising appeals leads to a 5-15% increase in revenue. Adding a person’s name along with other information from your donor database increases response rates by up to 500%.

2. Lean on Storytelling

Perhaps the most salient aspect of the direct mail appeal is the personal touch—the letter in the mailbox that ends up on the kitchen table and, ultimately, in your donor’s hands. The closeness of this interaction presents a wonderful opportunity to connect with donors with good, strong storytelling. The medium contributes to the power of the story, and vice-versa.

The power of the story is something we devote a lot of energy to here at Meyer Partners. To tell a powerful story in direct mail appeals, we rely on the three R’s: resonance, relevance, and respect.

Resonance | A story is only as strong as its details

To connect with another person, the story you tell must resonate with them — it must be touching, moving, truthful, honest, passionate, and direct. The best way to tell a story that resonates is to tell a story that actually happened. Mashups of several of your constituents’ experiences rarely ring true, because they aren’t really true. To tell the most impactful story, talk to people your nonprofit has helped. Visit them in their homes. Meet their children. Take notes. Write down details. Gather more information than you think you need. Then, when you sit down to write their story, you’ll have a wealth of humanizing details to draw upon to make your appeal as moving as possible.

Relevance | Where does the donor fit into the picture?

A good story is just a good story unless it feels relevant to the donor. There are a variety of methods you can use to make the story relevant to the donor. Use the second-person “you” generously to incorporate the reader into the story. Call upon the reader’s values and ideals. Further, address the impact that a donation from that specific person can have. This allows the donor to imagine themselves as the hero of the story — which they genuinely are when they contribute to your cause.

Respect | Avoid false urgency, scare tactics, and guilting

A deep sense of respect should permeate every appeal you send to your donors. Respect your donors by being honest and genuine and communicating your real need in a direct and honest way. What you don’t want to do is insult the donor or engage in tactics that could be perceived as manipulative. You don’t need to exaggerate the urgency of your nonprofit’s need or scare donors with shock-value images and stories. You’re writing to engage your donors, not to manipulate them. Donors can tell the difference!

3. Connect Copy with Visuals

In an effective direct mail appeal, visual and written elements interact in a cohesive way, each helping the other reach donors in their hearts and minds, not just their mailboxes. Visual elements should include photos and creative design that draws attention to the main points of the appeal. When choosing a photo for your direct mail appeal, don’t just choose a pretty picture—strategically select an image that conveys information and reinforces what you’ve said in the copy. A compelling photograph draws donors in and makes empathizing with your cause that much easier.

4. Set Goals and Measure Impact

Every direct mail fundraising campaign needs a specific goal and tools in place to assess progress toward that goal. You’ll also want data analytics capabilities to test your appeals…and test them again, and again. Analyzing results from various versions of direct mail appeals empowers your organization with information that can point you toward the most successful configurations. You might learn that a specific appeal with these graphics, this story, sent at this time of year, to this audience is wildly successful compared to your average results. You’ll want to implement that appeal—plus the lessons you learned from it—as much as possible to boost your fundraising numbers.

5. Combine Direct Mail and Online Fundraising

There are so many channels through which to reach donors these days: text, call, email, social media, mail, TV, radio…the list goes on. You don’t have to cover every single channel with every single campaign, but a multichannel approach that combines direct mail and online fundraising tactics is most likely to generate the best results. After all, people don’t interact with one another through a single channel, so you shouldn’t either. A great tool for combining online and offline channels is a QR code. A QR code on a poster, TV ad, or mailer can direct your supporters to online resources such as your online donation form, social media pages, or a fundraising web store where you can sell merchandise branded to your cause.

Top Providers of Direct Mail Campaigns for Nonprofits

Meyer Partners | A Full-Service Nonprofit Marketing Agency

At Meyer Partners, our many years of experience in the nonprofit marketing space inform everything that we do. We’re a full-service agency, so we offer a complete suite of marketing services for nonprofits, but direct mail is an essential aspect of the multichannel approach we take with all of our clients.

We agonize over getting our direct mail campaigns just right. We don’t send generic, cookie-cutter appeals to your supporters, switching out the name of your organization for the last nonprofit we worked with.

Quite the opposite. We’ll work with you to acquire the best prospect lists, analyze your housefile, divide it into effective segments, craft specific appeals for each of those segments, pore over the writing in the appeals, choose the perfect image to accompany the copy, design a layout that’s visually pleasing and clutter-free, and send off those powerful letters, ready for your nonprofit to meet (and in many cases, exceed) its fundraising goals.

From there, you can count on Meyer Partners to analyze the results of the campaign with sophisticated tools, extracting useful insights for all of your future fundraising efforts.

Outsourcing direct mail campaigns to an agency like Meyer Partners can free up time for your team to focus on valuable relationships with significant donors. Plus, you can count on our expertise to target donors and prospects more efficiently and effectively than many in-house teams would be able to, maximizing return on investment (ROI) for your fundraising campaigns. It’s wise to develop a partnership with a fundraising company to help you accomplish your goals, further your mission, and do more good.

We can be that partner for you today.


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Other top choices

If your organization isn’t ready to forge a true partnership with a full-service fundraising agency like Meyer Partners, consider these trusted direct mail providers.

GivingMail

GivingMail is a fantastic choice for a direct mail marketing and fundraising provider. This platform will work with nonprofit professionals every step of the way to complement your existing fundraising team and maximize your campaign’s impact. And if you don’t have a ton of graphic design or letter-writing experience? No problem—their web-to-print platform is easy to use with drag-and-drop functionality, and their customizable fundraising letter templates are ready to go!

Check out GivingMail’s pricing packages here.

Aria Calls and Cards

Aria is a direct marketing firm that provides nonprofits with personalized, handwritten direct mailings as well as telemarketing services to reach donors and prospects by phone. Aria’s handwritten letters can be used for fundraising campaigns or donor recognition programs to add a personal touch to your thank-you messages. Provide them with the content for your direct mailings and they’ll do the rest.

Reach out to Aria to get a quote.

Sun Print Solutions

Sun Print Solutions is a printing service that executes direct mail campaigns for nonprofits and for-profit businesses alike. They offer a wide range of customization options: in fact, their website states, “If it can be digitally printed, it can be personalized and directly mailed.” This means you aren’t limited to specific templates, envelopes, or types of mailings. They offer a range of options including brochures, catalogs, newsletters, and even calendars.

Contact Sun Print Solutions for pricing information.

Smartpress

Smartpress is an online printing service known for its creative design and versatile printing capabilities. Their team can skillfully lay out your organization’s copy, images, and logo on a wide variety of materials like pamphlets, brochures, and booklets, prioritizing visual appeal along the way. They also offer printing on more unusual mailers with designer folds, so if you want your direct mailings to stand out, Smartpress is a good choice.

Request a custom quote from Smartpress.

Wrapping Up

Direct mail isn’t—and never was—dead. Donors appreciate the intimacy of a physical letter and often respond positively to the full picture of your cause presented in a direct mail appeal, more so than they might in an email blast. With effective planning, customization, and implementation of your campaign, plus data analytics to pinpoint the most successful approaches for your organization, direct mail fundraising can make the difference between missing and exceeding your fundraising goals. To learn more about nonprofit marketing, keep exploring with these additional resources:

Increase Revenue with Personalization: Learn how to incorporate personalization into your fundraising appeals with insights from Meyer Partners.

Welcoming New Donors: New donors need to be nurtured into active, loyal supporters. Find out what we recommend including in your welcome series to get the best results.

Writing for Donor Engagement: Learn more about the philosophy that guides our donor engagement strategies in this blog post.


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