How to Raise Funds for Your Nonprofit through Direct Mail

Direct mail, the practice of soliciting donations through large-scale mailings, grows out of a sophisticated and fascinating area of fundraising. Your nonprofit organization may be much too small to make investing in a direct-mail campaign worthwhile, but you can use valuable tips from the “big guys” and develop small-scale letter-writing efforts that yield good results.

Direct mail

If you want to try large-scale direct-mail fundraising, hire a direct-mail consultant or firm to handle your campaign. Direct-mail fundraising can be an expensive investment, and you want the best, most up-to-date professional advice available.

Successful direct mail depends on the following:

  • A cause that’s meaningful to many thousands of people across your state or the country

  • A compelling, well-presented letter that makes its reader believe that your nonprofit can make a difference

  • A well-chosen mailing list, usually purchased from a list broker

  • Nonprofit bulk-rate postage, which can save you a significant amount over commercial mailing rates

  • Easy, clear ways your letter readers can respond to the request by using a return envelope, response card, or website

  • Testing your letter and list at a modest scale before sending the letter to hundreds of thousands of names

  • A mailing schedule through which you solicit donors several times each year

When writing a fundraising letter, remember that many potential donors will read your letter’s P.S. before they read the body of the letter, so include compelling information there, such as a testimonial from a client, a statistic that demonstrates your organization’s accomplishments, or information about a matching gift.

Successfully raising money through the mail depends on gradual development of a loyal cadre of donors who respond by mail. Fewer than 1 percent of the people you initially mail to may send contributions, but after they give, you add them to your donor list. You can send mail to these generous folks in the future and expect a higher rate of return (between 6 percent and 12 percent).

Donors who make repeat contributions are likely to stick with your organization for several years, making three or four (or more!) contributions in that time, and they’ll likely increase the size of their contributions. Adding to this value, you’ll uncover prospects for major gifts and planned gifts (contributions from bequests) among these donors.

Before your donor list develops into a significant and loyal resource, a direct-mail campaign on your organization’s behalf may only break even on the cost of the initial letter-writing campaign. You may even lose money. That’s why direct mail may not be appropriate for a small or start-up organization: The financial risk is too high.

Letter-writing campaigns

Given the risks and costs of direct mail, borrow some of its techniques and work on a more affordable scale, using your organization’s small but mighty contact list and your own writing skills. The key to success is targeting donors to whom the staff, board, and volunteers are already connected in some fashion.

Your fundraising letter isn’t just a letter; it also includes a mailing envelope, a reply envelope and card, and sometimes a brochure, a copy of a newspaper clipping, or a photograph. All these pieces should relate to one another and convey a clear, compelling message.

The outer envelope should be inviting to open. For instance, did you use a first-class stamp? Did you handwrite the address and add a special message? Is the envelope a different color and size than standard envelopes? The letter itself should give readers enough information that they feel involved in the cause. Most of it should be dedicated to describing the problem that the organization is trying to solve.

After that, it should discuss how things can be turned around for the better and the organization’s specific method or program for doing so. Make the tone personal by using “I” and “you.” The letter should close with a vision for how things will look if the plan succeeds. Keep paragraphs short and emphasize key points with underlined or bolded text.

Always make it easy for your donor to respond by offering postage-paid envelopes and clear information about how to give through your website. Always include your mailing address, website, and phone number on the letter in case a donor misplaces the envelope or other materials included in the mailing.

Your nonprofit can get a permit from the post office to offer postage-paid return envelopes.

Try out your letter first on your organization’s internal lists of board contacts, clients, and donors. Then continually build your potential donor list by making it a habit to collect names, addresses, and e-mails at events you present and meetings and conferences you attend.

You want to develop a good system for recording information about new donors in order to thank them, keep in touch with them, and ask for their support again in the future. You’ll find that database programs to manage your donor information come in various degrees of complexity and prices. Choose the one that’s best for your needs.

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