3 Things to Do Before Starting a Direct-Mail Fundraising Program

How to Practice Your Mailing Techniques

Direct Mail Fundraising
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Even though we talk endlessly, it seems, about online giving these days, the fact is that direct-mail fundraising is not yet dead.

It is true that direct mail is costly. Most large nonprofits invest in staff, expert consultants, and expensive technology to pull off their complex and sophisticated direct mailings. It is not something that happens quickly or easily.

Nevertheless, raising funds through websites and email is far from perfect, and a nonprofit cannot reach everyone in that way. Most philanthropy is still checkbook philanthropy.

But, before a small or startup nonprofit gets into direct-mail fundraising, it should establish some basic procedures and regular mailings. Call it a warm-up for bigger things.

Experts in direct mail suggest the following actions for a nonprofit just beginning to fundraise:

Your New Best Friend: a Periodic Newsletter.

Develop and mail a newsletter several times a year. There is considerable evidence that a mailed newsletter is much more effective at raising funds than emailed newsletters. So invest in a mailed newsletter before jumping to online.

Always include an invitation to donate in each newsletter (this could be a banner across the bottom of each page or a box on the first page), and enclose a return envelope (this can be tipped in by the printer). 

One small charity recently sent their annual fundraising letter with a newsletter, rather than mailing them separately. People like to read newsletters, and this tactic might increase readership of the fundraising appeal. 

Make your newsletter articles about what your donor's gifts helped your organization to accomplish. Make it donor-centric by skipping the letter from the Executive Director and any other organizational trivia. Write stories about the people you serve so well with the help of donors.

If you have a website (and you should) with a way for people to donate online, include that information in the newsletter. Many people who like to read a printed newsletter or a direct mail appeal now go online to actually make their donations. Make it easy for them to cross channels in this way.

A newsletter is a tried and true method of spreading the word about your nonprofit, building your list of friends, and encouraging donations.

Nail the Art of the Thank You Letter

Every time you receive a donation, even if unsolicited, send a personal thank you.

The letter should not be a form letter. Rather it should be personalized to the particular donor and refer to the good his/her specific donation will do. Have the board president, or the CEO, of your organization sign the letter.

Experts disagree about whether or not to Include a return envelope with that letter, but if you do don't ask for another contribution in your letter. Let the reply envelope just be a subtle cue. You might be surprised by how many contributors will send another donation either soon or at a later time.

Even if the donor actually donates through your website, make sure your email thank you is a good one, and do consider also sending a mailed thank you letter as well.

Fulfill an IRS Requirement, Help the Donor, and Boost Your Bottom Line

At the beginning of each new year, send a letter that is both a receipt for tax purposes and a thank you letter that sincerely expresses gratitude for the donor's support during the previous year.

The IRS requires that a donor have proof that contributions of $250 or more were charitable (given to a 501(c)(3) charity). Send this letter even to donors of less than $250. It will be a welcome record of the gift and another opportunity to remind the donor of your organization. Check out the requirements for such a letter.

Making sure that you excel at these tasks will prepare your organization for future direct-mail fundraising, such as an annual fundraising campaign. You will develop a good mailing list and put into place the discipline, goodwill, and systems that will become the infrastructure for future fundraising.