May 18, 2017, Scandinavia House, New York City


By Susan Fields, CFRE

“Acknowledgements should be prompt and personalized. Never send a solicitation until the donor has been thanked for the previous gift.”

H. Aldervan Daly, Director of Advancement, Police Athletic League

“Keep your board informed about the value of acquisition mailings as a source of major and planned gifts.”

Andrea Schwartz, President, ADS Creative & Mailing Services

“Your most recent donors are apt to be your most frequent. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat their gift.”

Kim Beckwith Walker, Fundraising Consultant

"Use powerful words of affirmation in acknowledgements. Donors never get tired of hearing how much you need them. ”

Gary Weinberg, President, DM Pros

In spite of the fanfare about digital fundraising and social media, traditional direct mail still remains the most effective method of raising money and growing your database. Recent studies indicate that direct mail solicitation provides between 60 and 80 percent of total fundraising revenue for most nonprofits, compared with 5 to 10 percent for email. According to the Data and Marketing Association, response rates for direct mail sent to existing donors came in at 3.4 percent compared to email at .12 percent. Because direct mail is by nature more personal than email, it tends to produce the best results in upgrading repeat donors as well as motivating planned gifts.

If you are dedicated to growing your organization’s direct mail program, take time to review TEN KEY STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS provided at this highly informational NYC AFP Educational Program:

  1. Set your goals and define your audience!  Determine in advance the amount you are seeking to raise, how the funds will be used, and the impact it will have on the recipients of the program. Defining all these areas will then allow you to select the group of donors most appropriate for this solicitation as well as create the most effective marketing materials possible.
  2. Make your mailing packages memorable! People give from their heart as opposed to their brain.  Be passionate and draw the reader in with envelope teasers and intriguing images and design. Feature a story that personifies your cause and engages the potential donor with “I” and “you” pronouns. Don’t be afraid to utilize a PS to support your ask.
  3. Present key information in the top panel of your letter!A compelling image accompanied with a memorable quote or a “Johnson Box” containing the key message of the letter will serve as excellent attention grabbers which can be used to entice the donor to read on or possibly even move directly to the contribution card.  
  4. Make your letter readable! Use short indented paragraphs, 12 point typeface, and one-inch margins. Although we don’t want to “dumb down” the letter, we do want to speed up the reader. Keep sentences short and words simple—using the Flesch-Kincaid scale to make certain your text falls somewhere within an 8th grade reading level.
  5. Show donors the impact of their gifts! People who respond to direct mail are often very visual. Use images, quotes, and testimonials that emphasize the difference their gift will make in the lives of the people that your organization serves. Thicker packages containing newsletters, calendars, brochures and buck slips are more likely to be opened, but can be costly. 
  6. Include a check box for monthly donors! Recurring gifts provide nonprofits with a steady income stream, higher retention rates, and a portal to planned gifts. Although the optimal way to acquire them is on the phone, direct mail appeals can also attract monthly donors. Although there will be increased costs in managing and stewarding these gifts, the program will eventually pay for itself.
  7. Thank your donors regularly! Because your supporters have a strong need to make a difference, they will often test you with their first gift to see how it will be used. Acknowledgement letters should be personalized, enthusiastic, and inform the donor how people’s lives have changed as a result of their generosity. Use ongoing communications to show proof of impact through print newsletters, E-newsletters, emails, website, and other channels.
  8. Build, build, build your database! Grow your constituency through special events, friends of your donors, board contacts, or working with a reputable broker who can provide your organization with a list they have modeled against your database. If your file is losing names and you are not making money, possibly you need a consultant to assist in enhancing your donor base and increasing response rate.
  9. Learn everything you can about your donors and record it!Go beyond basic constituent and gift data and build information about birthdays, businesses, spouse/partner, children, education, social media tags, personal relationships and connections. From a giving standpoint know how recently and often a donor contributes, their area of philanthropic interest, and other nonprofits they support.
  10. Keep your data clean! Deceased, duplicate, and bad addresses can cost you money and damage relationships. Eliminating these hindrances to fundraising through the many database cleaning tools available can improve the efficiency and evaluation of your direct mail campaigns. Your mail house can provide you with the NCOA (National Change of Address) report for each of your mailings. Most importantly, put in place a Data Policies Manual to standardize data input and minimize future cleanup efforts.  

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