Direct Mail Fundraising


Even in the digital age, direct mail has continues to be a powerful method for nonprofits to connect to supporters for fundraising. In fact, one in three consumers reported they had taken action for a nonprofit in response to a piece of direct mail, according to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2015 DMA Fact Book.

But not all direct mail is equally effective—the writing and layout rules for direct mail are different from many other kinds of communication. If you want to be sure your materials catch donors’ attention and inspire action, follow these best practices.

Use a Call to Action
It may sound obvious, but people are a lot more likely to do what you want if you ask them. That’s what a call to action is: asking your audience to take a specific action to help your cause.

What action do you want your donors to take? Polish it into a short, simple, and specific phrase that you can use consistently across your direct mail and other marketing materials to drive readers to become donors. Be clear about what you want, and also about the benefits of this action.

Example: “Provide a month of clean water for $25.”


Write for Skimming
Most people will only give your direct mail a few seconds of consideration before deciding to read it in full or not. To grab attention quickly, create your mailer to be easily skimmed.

This means using big headlines, engaging images, bullet points, and white space to establish a clear order for the eye to follow. Think about what it’s most important for a person to understand immediately, and then provide supporting details once you’ve got their attention.


Repeat Yourself
In marketing, it’s often advantageous to repeat your key message multiple times, and direct mail is no exception.

Why? As Bloomerang explains it, donating to a nonprofit lights up the brain’s pleasure center. Each time they read a mention of this action in your direct mail piece, it creates the simulation of the action in the brain, resulting in that same pleasurable feeling—which motivates a person to fulfill the action.


Mix it Up
While you want your branding and call to action to be consistent, change up your direct mail with a variety of materials that have different supporting content. This helps grab readers’ attention, while letting you reach out to your mailing list more frequently.

Keep these materials organized by planning out your full campaign and various messages beforehand.


Stand Out
Strategic design choices can help your direct mail get noticed. To stand out, stay way from the standard white envelopes and letter sizes and get creative. Bold colors (consistent with your brand, of course) and big or unusual sizes can earn your direct mail a few extra seconds of attention.


Suggest an Amount
People are more likely to make a donation when a specific amount is suggested to them. Keep the amount reasonable, and tie it to a tangible result (see the call to action example above).

For example, if your suggested donation is $25, create checkboxes for $10, $25, $50, and “As much as you’re able!” with a fill-in-the-blank option so the donor can choose their own amount if they prefer.

Reinforce your message yet again by circling your recommended amount on the form.


Make it Easy
The easier it is to donate, the more likely people are to do it.

Include everything needed to make a donation in the mailer. This may mean including a donation form and return envelope, and/or directing people to an easy-to-remember URL with a user-friendly form.

On the donation form, include checkboxes for the donation amounts, and be sure your organization is prepared to accept as many payment options as possible, including all major credit cards. Ask only for as much information from the donor as necessary.


Remember the Most Important Word
In direct mail, the most important word is you. 

Rather than focusing your message on what your donor’s money can do for you, focus on how a donation serves your donor. Remember, without donors, your organization’s work isn’t possible. Make them a part of the action.


Direct Mail Should Help Donors Help You

Most people want to give, but the clutter of every day life and other demands on their attention get in the way. A strategically crafted direct mail piece can cut through that clutter to get donors’ attention, and make it easy for them to give.

With these best practices, you can win more attention, optimize your response rates and draw in more donors. When it all comes together, your organization has the support to make a real impact, while donors get the satisfaction of knowing they helped make a difference, and everyone wins.