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A Direct Mail Fundraising Crash Course for Nonprofit Boards

This post was contributed by GivingMail.

Mail isn’t dead. The rise of social media and digital outreach has made direct mail seem slow or old fashioned, but it has also highlighted the unique appeal of mail. Compared to a tweet or an email, a signed letter in the mail takes time, care, and effort that portrays the nonprofit that sent it as professional and invested in their supporters.

Even in the internet age, direct mail remains a vital part of nonprofit fundraising and marketing efforts. Mail gives your nonprofit unique opportunities to connect with supporters by sending handwritten cards, personal event invitations, year-end calendars, or whatever else your nonprofit has to give that can be stamped and shipped.

Before you launch your direct mail fundraising campaign, you’ll need buy-in from your board. Board participation can elevate any fundraising campaign, especially one that benefits from handwritten and signed letters like a direct mail campaign.

Our team at GivingMail understands that your board may question if a direct mail campaign is worth the investment of time and money. That’s why we’ve put together this crash course to walk through the key aspects of a successful direct mail campaign so your nonprofit can decide if it’s the right direction for your next fundraising campaign.

In this article, we’ll go over:

  • Why your board should consider hosting a direct mail fundraising campaign
  • How to maximize the results of your direct mail campaign
    • Make data-driven decisions about your fundraising appeals.
    • Segment your audience and personalize direct mailings.
    • Encourage recipients to pursue corporate matching gifts.
    • Work with a direct mail fundraising platform.

Direct mail campaigns function best when your whole team is on board. Do your research on different direct mail campaigns, the pros and cons of each, and how your nonprofit could integrate working strategies. Use this article as a jumping off point to start learning so you can present to and educate your board on direct mail.

Why host a direct mail fundraising campaign

Direct mail fundraising campaigns require more upfront costs than email or social media outreach campaigns. However, they also have higher response and giving rates. According to GivingMail’s guide to direct mailing, 70% of total giving comes from individuals and the majority of donations from individuals are done by mail.

Fundraising campaigns that reach out to supporters on multiple channels have better results than nonprofits who only use one outreach method. Donor conversion takes multiple interactions, and the more chances your nonprofit gives itself to interact with donors, the more likely they are to give. Direct mail is one of those channels and shouldn’t be neglected while your nonprofit develops your social media, email, and phone marketing strategies.

Direct mail also gets your message out to new and existing supporters in a unique way compared to digital approaches. Sending a physical letter your donors can’t just scroll over creates a more memorable and personal connection than an unsolicited email. The physical presence of your mailing campaign keeps your mission at the forefront of your donors’ minds.

When presenting ideas for the next fundraiser to your nonprofit’s board, consider including direct mail as a channel of communication. If your nonprofit decides to give it a try, continue researching direct mail strategies to ensure you give your campaign the best chance for success.

How to maximize the results of your direct mail efforts

A fundraising effort’s success depends on its execution, something that is front of mind for your nonprofit’s board members. To obtain buy-in for your next direct mail campaign, educate your board members about how you’ll take steps to maximize the effort.

Direct mail fundraising campaigns have the opportunity to net your nonprofit a high return on investment if additional planning is done ahead of time to drive results. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan your campaign.

1. Make data-driven decisions about your fundraising appeals.

Effective nonprofit management takes a data-driven approach to inform fundraising decisions. Before getting started, examine past fundraising campaigns to assess previous strategies to see what might work again and what needs to be rethought. Tradition shouldn’t encourage you to repeat strategies, events, or plans that didn’t work out.

Don’t wait until your campaign is over to begin implementing improvements. As you launch your direct mail campaign, pay attention to:

  • Which appeals get responses. Not every appeal will work for every donor. Consider making multiple appeals or variations of one main appeal, especially if you’re testing what does and doesn’t work for your first mailing campaign. Of course, you can only come to a conclusion about your appeals’ effectiveness if you monitor which appeal goes where.
  • Who is responding. You likely have some idea about your supporters’ demographics before starting your mail campaign. As you refine your multi-channel approach to fundraising, keep track of what approach works best for which supporters so you can appeal to them through the channel they’re most likely to respond to going forward.
  • How your supporters are responding. There are multiple ways to solicit a donation through the mail such as including a return envelope or a website URL for online donations. Take note of what method your supporters prefer to give through so you can include it the next time you send a fundraising letter.

As you collect data, don’t be afraid to adapt your approach as you go. While traditional mail is slower than digital outreach, there’s no need to wait until the end of an entire campaign to make adjustments according to your data.

2. Segment your audience and personalize direct mailings.

Your outreach approaches should always include a personal greeting, and direct mail is no exception to this rule. However, personalization goes beyond avoiding a “Dear Donor” address.

Traditional mail appeals have the opportunity to build a connection with your supporters by telling a compelling story, using creative visuals, and crafting messages that feel tailored to each supporter. There are two approaches to creating messages that feel unique:

  • Segmentation. Segmentation involves grouping donors by similar characteristics to create an appeal that resonates for an entire section of your supporters. However, choose a characteristic that will have impact. For example, including suggested donation amounts that align with a segment’s previous donations may encourage continued or greater giving.
  • Personalization. Personalization uses personal data such as name, location, and donation history to create a unique letter for each supporter. Personalized messages generally follow a template in which specific fields are filled in with information you’ve previously collected to create a customized experience for your supporters.

Segmentation and personalization work best when used together. For example, you could segment your supporters based on previous campaigns they donated to. After you’ve identified a few key campaigns, your nonprofit would create letters with details about each campaign that can then be further personalized to include information such as the amount donated.

3. Encourage recipients to pursue corporate matching gifts.

Get your board members involved in pursuing corporate philanthropy. Corporate philanthropy is when a corporation or business does charitable work such as donating to a nonprofit. Reach out to local businesses and companies with mission statements that resonate with your nonprofit, and ask them to support your fundraiser.

Part of asking for a donation is framing how your nonprofit can benefit the corporate sponsor. This might be including their logo at events or publicly thanking them at your next event to get the word out to the community about their philanthropic investment. If you’re unsure about how to get started writing your request, consider using a sponsorship letter template like these as a base then personalizing it for the specific sponsor.

Your donors can also likely give more than they think they can with corporate supporters. Some employers have matching gift programs for when their employees donate. Corporate matching gifts are essentially an additional donation made by an employer after an employee gives to your nonprofit.

The biggest obstacle in receiving corporate matching gifts is informing donors that their employer has a matching program. Double the Donation estimates that 78% of eligible donors are unaware that they qualify for a corporate matching gift. Ask your supporters to check in with their employers to see if they belong to a participating company or use an automated matching gift tool to search a donor’s eligibility and send direct mailings informing the donor about the program.

4. Work with a direct mail fundraising platform.

If your organization doesn’t have the manpower, time, or expertise to run your own direct mail campaign, consider working with a direct mail fundraising platform. Integrating the right nonprofit database software with your direct mail fundraising platform can ensure strategic and optimized appeals are sent by collecting your supporters’ data and populating it into templates provided by your nonprofit.

An affordable platform has the potential to save money, as your staff’s time can be devoted to other important efforts, such as your mission. Look for the following features when considering which platform to use:

  • Scalability. Your database should be able to grow with your nonprofit. Whether you have ten donors or a thousand donors, you shouldn’t have to spend time and money looking for additional data storage solutions.
  • Donor Profile Creation. If you want to create personalized messages, you will need a platform that collects and manages donor data in a way that’s useful for your nonprofit. Every donor should have a profile that tracks contact information, donation history, and eligibility for corporate matching programs.
  • Additional Management Tools. After your direct mail campaign ends, you’ll still have staff and volunteers to manage. Look for additional organizational and scheduling features to find software that accounts for more than just one of your nonprofit’s managerial needs.

While direct mail may be traditional, it works best when the right technology optimizes your approach. Research your options before purchasing a fundraising platform to ensure your nonprofit will have everything it needs for its current and future campaigns.


A direct mailing campaign can connect your nonprofit with supporters in a way communication through other channels can’t. Along with creating memorable, physical objects your supporters can hold onto to remind them of your nonprofit, your board members can get involved in the effort by signing fundraising letters and cards that show your donors they’re invested in fulfilling every part of your nonprofit’s mission.

Do your research and sit down with your board members to discuss the benefits of including a direct mail effort in your next campaign. Walk them through the steps so they can understand how and why direct mail works, giving your next fundraising campaign an educated and supportive board.


Guest Author: Grant Cobb

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.

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