Best Practices for Donor Acquisition and Retention Through Direct Mail
Sending a personalized, well-written appeal via direct mail can be one of the most impactful ways for schools to fundraise. Although some people think that all communication should happen online in this digital age, sending appeals through direct mail continues to be a critical fundraising strategy.
For those new to direct mail, it’s “the process of writing, designing, printing, and distributing hard copy requests for funds to your donors and/or prospective donors.”
It’s a great strategy to use because when you send solicitation letters via direct mail, you’re providing people with a tangible way to interact with your nonprofit and support your mission. According to Big Fundraising Ideas, one way school groups can take advantage of this method of communication is by sending fundraising letters that invite supporters to make a donation.
But what about people who say that direct mail isn’t worth the investment? Grey Matter Research addressed long-standing myths about donor communication in The Donor Mindset Study III.
“There are some in the industry who preach that older donors simply won’t accept digital communication, or that young donors reject traditional mail,” said Ron Sellers, President of Grey Matter Research.
Instead, they found that appeals made via traditional mail and appeals made via online tools can be effective at communicating fundraising messages. With that in mind, we recommend incorporating direct mail into your fundraising plan.
Here are four best practices to follow when reaching out to your prospects and donors via direct mail.
1. Refer to the data.
You might have to convince your board or staff members to buy into the idea of direct mail fundraising. To do so, we recommend sharing the extensive research on the effectiveness of this fundraising strategy.
To give one example, let’s say you’re struggling to convince your team that a direct mail campaign is worth the investment. You should look for statistics and studies that show that some donors respond to direct mail appeals more often than they do to email appeals. A 2020 study by Ballantine found that direct mail response rates ranged from 5-9% compared to 1% for email.
When talking to your team about the benefits of direct mail fundraising, it’s important to consider factors that might influence the data. Going back to response rates, those can vary based on a number of factors inside and outside of your control. For example, according to The NonProfit Times, response rates will vary according to age and income, which means that you shouldn’t expect to achieve that same response rate for every segment of your donors.
Similarly, they found that donors with household incomes under $40,000 prefer the storytelling of direct mail (40%) to email (17%) more so than donors ages 65+ who prefer direct mail (36%) over email (30%) campaigns. Direct mail appeals more to donors giving less than $100 (45% to 21%), while those giving $2,000 or more prefer email (44% to 29%).
After you collect the relevant data, look at your school’s fundraising history and donor demographics to better predict the success you could have with direct appeals.
Consider both demographic and psychographic characteristics when defining your segments. Demographics include attributes like age, gender, location, education level, background, economic status, occupation, and more. Psychographics include interests, pain points, hobbies, passions, and points of view.
Potential audiences for your school’s fundraising campaign could include grandparents of students, parent volunteers, alumni, parents of alumni, faculty and staff, or partner organizations. After you define your audience, develop a unique message and strategy tailored to them to increase response rates.
3. Combine your direct mail campaign with a product fundraiser.
Another way to increase the chance that your supporters will open your direct mail solicitation letters is by including them as part of a product fundraiser.
Product fundraisers for schools, like selling cookie dough and holiday gifts, are a huge hit with certain demographics. Even for the audiences unlikely to make a cash donation, a personal letter in the mail creates an opening for a product fundraising ask that might entice them to support your mission. By presenting multiple ways to support your mission, you’ll increase the likelihood that your audiences will give to your organization in some way.
4. Use technology to fundraise via direct mail.
Wondering how you can manage all of the things you need to do in order to send effective direct mail appeals? Donor management software like Bloomerang makes it easy for schools of all sizes to coordinate the mail merge, list segmentation, letter writing, and donation tracking required to run these campaigns.
Your donor management software should also include key features needed for mailings like constituent history, smart reports, and letter editing. As mentioned above, supporting a direct mail campaign with digital appeals maximizes response rates, which means you should also look for a system that offers payment processing, email marketing, and website integrations.
No matter how you’re fundraising, the most important thing is to reach your audience where they are and make the appeal that is most likely going to convince them to support your mission. Direct mail fundraising is just one strategy that you can try when considering effective ways to raise more funds.
Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for elementary, middle and high school groups nationwide since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA's. Clay is the Marketing Manager at Big Fundraising Ideas.