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Direct Response

Direct Mail Best Practices for Nonprofit Organizations


Despite the increasing shift towards digital fundraising, using direct mail as part of your overall marketing strategy still provides significant benefits for any nonprofit clients your agency may be working with. Many shy away from direct mailers because of the slow lead time, high initial costs required or because past campaigns haven’t shown much success. When done right, though, direct mailers can be a nonprofit’s most valuable asset. The key, of course, is to do it right. There are many factors in direct mail that can have a huge impact on a campaign’s success, particularly in regard to mailers with multiple components, where a letter, a brochure and a response card are intended to work in conjunction with one another. Direct mail can be edited and rethought endlessly, but there are a few best practices you can follow to improve the direct mail campaigns you manage for your nonprofit clients.  

Know Your Readers

In terms of the copy you include on a piece of direct mail, it’s always best to be succinct and get to the point quickly. While every nonprofit is different and has its own unique donor base with unique needs, desires and priorities, there are some writing best practices you may follow. In Entrepreneur’s Marketing Bootcamp series, Craig Simpson writes, “When people pick up a sales piece, they'll start by quickly glancing through it. To grab their attention, your copy must be interesting, and at the same time, it should be easy to read.”

Beyond that, don’t be afraid to get personal. It’s important to keep in mind what has or has not worked for the nonprofit in the past and accentuate the good, while moving away from the bad. If a nonprofit’s donors historically have responded well to a long, involved story, it may be good to get really detailed in the letter portion of the mailer.

If the donors tend to respond better to colorful brochures with a simple call-to-action response piece, the campaign should be kept simple to avoid turning these donors off. Demographics can also inform your nonprofit client’s fundraising efforts. A campaign targeting millennials for example, should employ a different strategy than a campaign targeting the Gen X demographic.

Integrate Direct Mail with Digital

Few nonprofits these days are going to use direct mail as they sole marketing strategy. On Forbes’ Agency Council, Jenna Gross writes that deploying a cross-media tactic in which a campaign is present in direct mail, email and social media channels can increase responses by 25 percent or more. “This ‘sting like a bee’ strategy,” Gross says, “delivers a one-two punch that makes your marketing message heard repeatedly and more cost-effectively.”

Direct mail can also help drive online traffic for your nonprofit client. One constant concern when it comes to direct mail is minimizing costs, which are directly related to the size, thickness and weight of the actual content being mailed. A nonprofit trying to keep costs down can limit the physical mailing to a few smaller pieces utilizing a compelling website call to action. When the donor visits a nonprofit’s website or social media channels, they’ll find important supplemental information that may not have been included in the mailing.

Segmentation is Key

The most important thing to keep in mind with direct mailers is that one size does not fit all. On Hubspot’s blog, Jeffrey Haguewood writes that meeting donors where they are “is a combination of providing the right message in the right place at the right time,” though that’s difficult to do when sending communications that are impersonal. The more you can help your nonprofit client segment and personalize its mailers and asks, the better the results it achieves will be.

Segmentation and personalization are important components in making direct mailers a valuable asset for your nonprofit clients.

From major donors to mid-level donors to low-dollar donors, using direct mail to ask for the right amount from each person on a nonprofit’s mailing list raises a nonprofit’s donation potential.