Simple truths about direct mail fundraising

5th June 2015

by Redina Kolaneci

Despite the rapid growth of online communications direct mail remains one of the essential tools in a fundraiser’s toolbox for retaining current donors and acquiring new ones.

Here are some basic truths about direct mail that can help you make the most of this fundraising tool:

  • Charities that raise most money from direct mail are those that have a focused direct mail programme rather than an eclectic collection of appeals.

The true measures of fundraising success are not the response rate or the income generated by any of the appeals but an increase in the total number of gifts compared to previous years and of overall income generated through direct mail.

  • Fundraising appeals work best when there is a letter, a response form and a reply envelope. These three elements are essential and any other additions to your packages are likely to reduce rather than increase response rates.

However, it is important to note that the letter enclosed in the appeal pack should contain a simple and straightforward ‘ask’. I know this seems obvious but too many appeal letters hint at ‘the ask’ but fail to issue a straightforward invitation to give.

  • Thanking donors promptly and warmly is a key factor in ensuring the success of a direct mail programme.

Showing appreciation for their contributions helps donors to bond with your charity and makes them feel they are partners in your work rather than ‘walking chequebooks’.

  • A charity’s donors are more likely to stop giving because they have not been asked enough not because they have been asked too often!

Many Christian charities are reluctant to ask their donors more than two or three times a year fearing that they will stop giving if they are asked more often. In my opinion, such fears are unfounded, unless they are backed up by statistical data of increased donor attrition caused by high frequency in appeals.

Knowing how many ‘asks’ are right for your charity is not something that can be decided by looking at other charities but by testing the frequency of appeals with your database over time and carefully tracking attrition and retention rates.

  • Integrating newsletter and annual reports in a charity’s direct mail programme is likely to increase the overall income.

Well-written newsletters, magazines or annual reviews enable donors to see the bigger picture of what your charity is doing and encourage them to continue their involvement with your work.

  • Brochures, DVDs or other materials included in fundraising appeal are likely to reduce rather than increase response rates.

Sometimes, your boss may insist that a particular brochure should go out with the fundraising mailing to reinforce its message. However, producing that brochure can slows down the process of getting the appeal out on time, adds to the appeal costs and the increase in response rates barely justifies the money you spent.

  • Good fundraisers give donors opportunities to give whatever amount they chose be it £2,000 or £20.

A fundraising appeal is in essence an invitation to participate in making a difference in the world through a particular charity’s programmes or activities. That is why appeals should facilitate donor’s giving at any level they choose.