Digital innovations have emphatically revolutionized the ways in which charities go about their work. One traditional fundraising method, however, remains evergreen: direct mail.
Direct mail merits a lot of attention—and an equal amount of scrutiny—because it is an approach virtually every nonprofit organization uses to attract donors. Using “snail mail” is more commonly used for fundraising than it is for informative publications such as newsletters. In fact, 33 percent of charities and foundations did not send a print newsletter in 2015, and 12 percent did not send any physical mail at all.
Although print communications have their share of benefits and drawbacks, charity leaders are finding creative ways to incorporate a variety of media to enhance their fundraising campaigns. The following list includes insights on how to design mailers that complement your digital platforms, and it covers the unique aspects of an effective direct mail fundraising campaign.
Build uniformity in branding
At the end of the day, charities exist because people share a common set of values that they feel compelled to act upon. The branding on a mailer (e.g., logos, mottos, etc.) should symbolize unity and communicate the values of the organization to people not yet a part of the cause.
Encourage e-mail communication
Each piece of direct mail should feature a request for an e-mail address. Appeals like this generate an organic list for sending follow-up communications digitally, and they can establish multiple channels for connecting with donors. Direct mail is a great way to guide people to online donation pages.
Create options and visuals for donors
Not every piece of direct mail needs to direct people to a website, but it should leave that option available. Along with giving prospective donors the choice of making a gift, it helps to outline options for how much and at what frequency. For repeat donors, consider inviting them to move up to the next donation level.
Open the membership door
Testing every direct mail strategy is an imperative for nonprofits, and one good approach to test is a membership offer. The exact language might differ depending on the organization, but the concept is the same: let prospective donors know that you want them to be a part of your charity in some capacity.
Commit to matching donations
Another method worthy of testing is to extend a challenge and commitment to the donor base that includes matching every dollar, up to the fundraising goal. This can be very successful, as people will see that in addition to supporting a worthy cause, their money immediately multiplies.
Diversify your outreach
Sending out repeat mailers is a quick way to ensure that they end up in the recycling bin. Each piece of mail should feature elements of uniformity, but they should also feature a prominent and unique appeal to the donor. These themes might be seasonal (e.g., a summer support initiative) or topical (e.g., a clothing drive).
Tailor messages to the individual
The key to personalizing mailers is to make sure they come across as professional and persuasive without sounding patronizing. To achieve this, employ concise, conversational language that informs and encourages. This will mean ignoring grammar conventions at times.
Carefully select pronouns
On a closer level, one way to make language conversational and effective is to monitor your pronouns. Steer clear of using the impersonal “we” when talking about the nonprofit, but use “you”—a marketing power word—to help the reader feel engaged while reading.
Rely on simple designs
The saying “less is more” applies perfectly to direct mail. Each mailer should be visually appealing, but you should never sacrifice the purpose of the project for aesthetics. By using clear and navigable text, you will have a better chance of making a true impression, even at a quick skim. Sometimes simple things like an insert can be enough of a distraction to detract prospective donors from considering the organization as an option.
Help the donor focus
Specific suggestions for establishing a simple design include using bullet points and underlining effectively. If the reader only ends up skimming, he or she will follow the roadmap you create. This means only underline or bullet the items that are absolutely essential takeaways.
Remember the return card
Upon receiving a mailer, most people will give the same amount of attention to both the letter and the return card. The design for the latter should therefore be simple and easy to navigate. Attracting a donor only to lose their support because of a difficult-to-understand return card is an easily avoided fate.
Focus on the donor
Research on fundraising has revealed that people respond well to information that is social. This includes showing prospective donors how people in their community, who are just like them, have donated and contributed to a great cause. Creating an easily envisioned context for recipients can yield a lot of support.
Send mailers as frequently as possible
Reaching out to the community on a regular schedule will keep the donor base more engaged than infrequently sending out mailers. Sometimes a donor needs to see the logo of an organization two or three times before it “clicks” for them.