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Direct Mail Donor Acquisition: 10 Tips for Excellent Campaigns

6 min read
November 15, 2023
Shannon Whitehead headshot
Shannon Whitehead
Content Strategist, Neon One

Direct mail is too often associated with the past. Some assume direct mail is ineffective today and that younger audiences don’t want to receive it. But direct mail isn’t dead—the personal touch, visibility, and open rate that comes with direct mail have made it significant in the digital age. For these reasons and more, direct mail donor acquisition works. Here’s why!

The Benefits of Direct Mail for Donor Acquisition

What’s so appealing about direct mail? There are many reasons why direct mail donor acquisition can be a compelling fundraising tool that produces results that digital methods simply cannot. It enables:

  • Offline relationship building with donors and the community
  • Creative materials that leave a lasting impression on donors
  • Highly targeted and personalized messaging (when done well—more on that below!)
  • Inclusivity by reaching audiences with limited digital access
  • Breaking down barriers to online engagement with a diverse donor base that may not engage online
  • Multichannel integration, which provides a holistic fundraising approach that seamlessly integrates with online channels
  • Overcoming digital overload in a world over-saturated with digital content
  • Tangible communications that donors can hold in their hands and associate with your organization in positive ways
  • Standing out in a sea of digital clutter as an attention-grabbing physical medium

Digital channels are great and can be highly effective, but they won’t establish a physical connection with your donors. As you plan your direct mail donor acquisition campaign, keep the following tips in mind.

Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Best Practices

All direct mail isn’t created equal. Every piece of direct mail that converts donors has to not only capture their attention but also move them to take the next step and give. To ensure your direct mail donor acquisition efforts actually expand your reach, there are a few best practices every nonprofit should heed.

1. Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

One of the biggest challenges in direct mail donor acquisition is designing visually appealing fundraising materials that are attention-grabbing. The goal is to stand out in your donor or potential donor’s mailbox—this is the time to be your most creative and innovative!

In addition to creating a beautiful piece of direct mail, the copy on it should complement the design and be persuasive in a way that resonates with your donors.

2. Express Gratitude

When sending direct mail to current donors or people who made a donation in the past, always start with “thank you.” Expressing gratitude for their past support immediately jogs their memory and establishes both connection and trust. After you’ve thanked them for what their previous gifts have allowed your organization to accomplish, convey how important ongoing support is and why.

3. Segment Your Audience

Segmentation isn’t only essential for email campaigns—segmenting your direct mail recipients personalizes your message and improves engagement.

Gather up your existing donor data and segment your direct mail appeals by past gift amount, previous direct mail campaign engagement, length of time they’ve been involved with the organization, etc. When it comes to identifying potential donors, the donor analytics in your nonprofit CRM should help you see who in your database shares characteristics with your active supporters and build segments based on that. 

After you’ve built your direct mail audience segments, tailor your messaging to resonate with each audience and always try to appeal to their unique interests and motivations.

4. Don’t Give Into Stereotypes

It may be tempting to make assumptions about who will respond to direct mail campaigns and who won’t. Stereotypes are often wrong, as in the case of direct mail donor acquisition. People often—and understandably—assume that older donors are the only audience to engage with direct mail. However, according to a study by Giving USA, Millennials are the generation most likely to give as a result of direct mail strategies. 

5. ABC (Always Be Consistent!)

If your people can’t recognize your organization whenever direct mail shows up in their mailbox, they’re less likely to trust it. They may even toss it out without reading it! When you use direct mail for donor acquisition, use your branding on your envelope and on the letter itself so people will always recognize your organization. 

Consistent branding helps build trust and recognition among the community and your donors. When your direct mail materials align with your nonprofit’s brand, people know to pay attention.

6. Tell Stories

Give those receiving your direct mail something compelling to read and respond to. Use direct mail as an opportunity to be a storyteller and put your impact on paper. Your call to action (CTA) and main campaign message should be clear and centered, but stories are donor conversion machines. Tell stories in your direct mail campaign. Highlight your donors’ potential impact with a special focus on the people you serve. 

7. Clarify Your CTA and Follow-Up Plan

The last thing direct mail should do is confuse donors. When a person receives direct mail from your organization, what next step do you want them to take? Ensure that there is one clear CTA on the direct mail piece. Clearly state what action the recipient should take and outline the various ways they can contribute. Make it easy for donors to respond—no lengthy links, multiple steps, or extensive forms.

In addition to including a remittance slip and a self-addressed, stamped envelope, give people a way to donate online. This is especially helpful for younger donors (and an increasing number of older supporters) who want to reply to a direct mail appeal by making an online gift. Including a QR code on your letter is a good option, as is simply including a simple URL to your donation form. 

For the donors who do respond to your direct mail, follow up with gratitude and more information. The goal of direct mail donor acquisition isn’t only to secure a donation but to attract new donors and nurture ongoing relationships with them. 

8. Measure and Analyze Performance

It’s nearly impossible to determine whether a direct mail donor acquisition campaign worked without performance numbers to compare and the ability to tie donations to direct mail. Before you send direct mail, establish a few KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to help you measure their success. 

As you analyze data from direct mail, you’ll be able to understand what worked well and where improvements are needed. This is especially true if you’ve tested different versions. Having a way to measure and subsequently analyze your direct mail’s performance allows you to continuously improve and refine future campaigns.

Fundraising 101 for Every Type of Campaign

Whether your nonprofit is running a direct mail campaign, hosting a fundraising event, or anything else, there are a few basics that lay a strong foundation for a successful campaign of any kind. To learn more about what it takes to produce a great campaign with direct mail, email, or events, check out the article below!

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