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3 Tips to Revitalize Your Direct Mail Marketing

3 Tips to Revitalize Your Direct Mail Marketing

Some organizations would have you believe that direct mail marketing is dead and gone, conquered by the rise of digital alternatives. While they may have a point about the power of social media and online advertising, any source that claims that there’s no use for direct mail should consider brushing up their own nonprofit marketing strategies.

Yes, direct mail may seem out of date, but it continues to be a highly effective way for nonprofits to reach donors and build meaningful relationships with their supporters. According to Ballantine, direct mail response rates hover between 5% and 9%. Compare that to standard email response rates of 1%, and you can see why direct mail should be in your nonprofit’s fundraising toolkit.

In this post, we’ll walk through the benefits of direct mail fundraising for modern nonprofits and explore the following tips on how to make the most of it:

While digital advertising is certainly an essential part of current marketing best practices, dusting off and repolishing your traditional mail methods could boost your organization’s donations, event attendance, and donor retention rates in ways that you might not have considered.

First, let’s consider the actual definition and key benefits of direct mail fundraising, before diving into the ways that your own mail campaigns can be tweaked for maximum effectiveness.

What is Direct Mail Fundraising?

Meyer Partners’ guide to the basics of direct mail fundraising provides a comprehensive definition of this tried and true strategy:

“In the nonprofit world, 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.”

From the description alone, it’s already clear that direct mail marketing is a far more intimate method of reaching your supporters, connecting with them in a way that an e-message or a social media shoutout simply cannot.

A number of other advantages to the direct mail medium that are too often forgotten include:

  • Increase of donor base. Physical mail is able to reach audiences that may be left behind by digital marketing, getting in touch with older generations that are more likely to appreciate mail messages and perhaps more readily able to give.
  • Personalization and stronger donor relationships. The intimacy and value of a physical object is something that a digital message just can’t compete with. Traditional mail gives donors that extra level of appreciation and acknowledgment that could be the catalyst for their next gift.
  • Acts of gratitude. The best ways to properly thank your supporters for their contributions tend to be mailed gifts and messages, and for good reason. By giving donors something long-lasting and tangible, they will have a physical reminder of your organization as well as meaningful evidence of your gratitude.
  • Keeping you connected to high impact donors. These major givers likely have inboxes and digital channels that are bombarded with messaging. Making the extra effort to send traditional mail will distinguish you from their normal flood of online content.

Now that we’ve established the form, function, and power of direct mail marketing, it’s time to explore the methods by which an improved mailing marketing can breathe new life into your nonprofit.

3 Direct Mail Fundraising Tips

1. Determine your audience

Considering how personal the act of receiving physical mail already is, it seems almost silly not to take full advantage of that effect by further personalizing your messages. First, consider who your mail is going to.

This means you might segment your donors into different groups for more targeted, personal messaging. Some common points of audience segmentation include interests, age range, and the frequency and level of giving.

After all, the way that you would communicate with, say, a prospective donor would be very different from how you would address a current donor. Segmentation organizes these groups in such a way that your content can be customized accordingly.

On a broader scale, segmentation will allow you to be more efficient and effective in your messaging. This increases the rate that your mail is opened and read, and in turn encourages future connections between your organization and recipients that could include anything from gift giving to full membership.

In fact, studies have found that personalization of fundraising appeals leads to a 5-15% increase in revenue. Furthermore, adding a person’s name along with other information from your donor database increases response rates by up to 500%.

Segmenting your audience may seem like a simple exercise in data analytics, but to recipients and donors these techniques can mean the difference between your letters joining their junk mail or future donations. The more adaptive you are to the unique backgrounds, tastes, and interests of your audience, the more receptive they will be to your content.

2. Craft your messaging carefully

Storytelling is yet another technique that has its unique strengths in a hard copy format. Physical print allows for impact and visual storytelling in particular to land an even greater punch as the reader holds the content in their own two hands.

If you’re struggling to come up with the kind of hard-hitting, personal messaging required for a highly effective messaging campaign, a good mnemonic device to remember are the three R’s of impact storytelling: resonance, relevance, and respect. This tool outlines the importance of sharing genuine, personal stories that directly connect to your organization’s core mission.

At the same time, you must remain respectful of your donors during the entire appeal letter. Your content should be representative of a nonprofit, not a business enterprise or a pyramid scheme. Relate your content with authenticity and passion, and use the importance of your cause and the good work of your organization as the foundation for their choice to give.

In terms of aesthetics, we would advise against cramming your direct mail appeals with images. This runs the risk of making your content feel more mass-produced and your organization cheaper and less professional. That being said, if you’re compelled to include a photo, a single insert to go along with the mail copy itself could be a tasteful way to engage your audience and facilitate your mission’s story.

Photos of volunteers in action or real community members being helped by your organization can be particularly effective subjects. After all, people are naturally drawn towards faces and have a faster time building emotional connections with images of people rather than descriptions of them. You might even consider focusing on a few specific “protagonists” among those you’ve helped to offer a familiar face across all of your fundraising messaging.

Your readers will have a limited amount of time and patience to go through your content. Make the most of their attention by engaging them with high-impact storytelling full of figures and statistics that briefly but effectively prove the worth of your cause.

3. Track direct mail campaign performance

Like any other fundraising effort, direct mail fundraising campaigns need specific goals and metrics in place to gauge their success.

For example, how much are you hoping to raise, and in what time frame? What percentage of delivered messages successfully encouraged donations? These are only a few of the many important figures to consider when assessing your campaign’s progress towards its goal.

Rather than using guesswork, use data analytics to test your different appeals to find out the strategies that work best for you. This will help you to determine what content appeals most to donors and better serves their needs.

Not only can you improve future direct mail campaigns, but keeping accurate data is beneficial for reporting on internal business processes. Similar to budgeting or planning for future campaigns, tracking key data metrics is an organizational necessity.

If the operations of a particular fundraising campaign prove to be too overwhelming, you might consider partnering with a professional fundraising consultant. This Meyer Partners search guide to consultant firms can get you started if you’re searching for an experienced aide to guide you as your marketing efforts level up.


There’s simply no good sense in dispensing with the tried and true direct mail marketing method when it still produces such significant results in improving donor retention, fundraising revenue, and donor relationships.

While online fundraising strategies have become an essential nonprofit tool, it will always be more effective to integrate that strategy with your direct mail marketing efforts. By revamping your traditional mail strategies and tackling the market with this multi-channel approach, you better ensure that you can reach the largest possible number of supporters across the widest demographics.

Author: Bonnie Meyer

Bonnie Meyer

Bonnie brings to her role at Meyer Partners more than 30 years of fundraising experience, with a special emphasis in multimedia approaches to new donor acquisition and development. Her expertise encompasses several facets of direct response fundraising, including copy writing and creative direction, market research, strategic planning, and comprehensive results analysis.

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