Nonprofits still choose direct mail for successful fundraising

direct mail fundraisingBack in 1995, I wrote one of my “How-To Reports” about fundraising. Reviewing that report, I realized that many of the direct mail strategies and copywriting tips I covered back then still hold true today. So I’d like to share some of them with you here.

Perhaps you work for the county humane society. . . the AIDS project in your area. . . the local hospice. Whichever nonprofit cause you support, as an employee or a volunteer, there is always one aspect in common – the need to raise funds. Whether it’s a gala event, a direct mail solicitation, or a telemarketing effort, the organization’s fundraising success depends on how deep consumers/businesses reach into their pockets.

In his book Billions by Mail, Francis Andrews said “Donors acquired by mail, cultivated by mail, and renewed by mail, will contribute in a consistent pattern over a long period of years.” In an article in DMNews, Frank Washkuch agreed. He wrote “Nonprofit marketers continue to rely on their long-standing marketing strategies, direct mail in particular, even as they move to integrate other online and social media elements into their fundraising arsenals.”

Yes, even with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn’s popularity, nonprofit brands say traditional direct mail still provides them with a high return on investment in their customer acquisition and donor cultivation campaigns.

“Direct mail is having a surprising renaissance. . . Maybe it’s because the web is overused. Maybe it’s because nonprofit needs greater competitive justifications for appeals than in the pre-Internet era. But whatever the basis, fundraising has returned to the mail,” said fellow copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis.

With these thoughts in mind, this post offers 6 tried & true tips offered by direct marketing professional Bob Stone in his well-known book Successful Direct Marketing Methods.

1. The highest percent of response in a fundraising effort comes from previous contributors. Have you kept a thorough database of past donors? Do you know how much they donated and how often?

2. It generally is agreed that people respond best to emotional appeals backed by rationale for giving. “A number of fundraising strategies have worked for Disabled American Veterans (DAV), but generally, the more emotional the appeal, the better it produces for us. Case studies of personal experiences work well for us.” (“Fundraising Strategies for Bottom-Line Success.” DM News, May 18, 1992.)

“When people connect to people, good things happen,” said Don Mikush of M Creative. “…it’s unlikely that even the most data-driven donor will give you more than a passing glance without an emotional attachment to the work you do.”

3. People tend to respond more readily to appeals for specific projects rather than for general needs.
In other words, don’t just ask for $50,000 for the XYZ Foundation – explain that the money will be used to build a new facility, or to purchase new equipment that will in turn enhance the services you deliver, etc.

In his book Sell It By Mail, James Lumley explained that when you show readers, by specific description, just why the funds are needed and what is done with the money it gives psychological value to the donor.

4. The average contribution amount tends to increase when specific contribution amounts are suggested.
In a direct mail piece for The Children’s Hospital, the letter closed with: “Your total support of $100 last year was of critical importance. Your gift today to the Red Wagon Club of $100 or $120 will help begin stories of hope, like mine, for other children.”

“If a person gave $40 as a membership gift, we [The Arthritis Foundation] wouldn’t give them the opportunity to downgrade to $20 by sending a $20 renewal notice,” Lindy Litrides said. “We’d base (the suggested renewal amount) on the previous membership gift.” (“The Turnaround at the Arthritis Foundation.” DM News, March 1, 1993.)

5. Total amount pledged tends to be greater when a multi-payment plan is offered.
(i.e. “Contribute $400. Pay $100 now and we’ll bill you $100 each quarter.”)

6 Setting a specific date for meeting a fundraising goal tends to increase response and total contributions
. A letter for the Boulder, Colorado YWCA read: “To help us meet this challenge please complete and return it (your pledge form) to the YWCA by September 15.”

These six pointers should help you get started with your next direct mail fundraising campaign. I hope to come back to this topic in a future blog post with additional tips and “how-to” advice from industry experts. Have a pointer you’ve implemented and would like to share? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.