When used well, direct mail can be the most effective fundraising channel for any nonprofit. Response rates are the best, visibility is high, and there’s just something about receiving mail that people still like.1,2 But what exactly can nonprofits use direct mail for, and what should you know before diving in?
Here’s what we’ll cover in this handy guide to direct mail for nonprofits:
What is direct mail solicitation?
A direct mail solicitation is simply a piece of mail used to ask the recipient to complete an action. In the case of nonprofits, this is usually asking for a monetary donation, but it could be used to ask for volunteer time, spread news, or request in-kind donations.
Direct mail continues to be the single greatest source of donations for nonprofits in the U.S., year after year. This might come as a surprise to some, as people have been calling for the end of direct mail since online advertising started nearly 30 years ago.
Some for-profit companies even went so far as to cancel their direct mail in the early 2000s (think catalogs and postcards) and found declining response across all channels. Most companies and marketing agencies have come to the consensus that multi-channel marketing strategies generally perform the best—and that includes direct mail for nonprofits and other fundraising organizations.
Is direct mail still effective for nonprofits?
The simple answer is yes. Direct mail is still an effective channel for nonprofits. Just like any other channel, there is a science to maximizing results from direct mail. However, when done well, direct mail can be the most powerful channel any organization has for bringing donations to any nonprofit.
Direct Mail Statistics
In case you’re still doubting the power of direct mail for nonprofits, we have some statistics here to back up our claims.
The scale of charitable giving in the US has been roughly 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) since tracking began decades ago. This gives us a good estimate for growth and expectations to come, with consistent growth paralleling the US economy. Even in economic downturns and recessions, giving remains relatively stable.4 And throughout this time, individual donations continue to account for roughly 70% of total giving – or approximately $309.66 billion in 2019.
The majority of individual donations in the US come from direct mail. Of individual donations to nonprofits, the vast majority is still driven by direct mail. Even as online donations continue to grow, the percentage of total fundraising in the US from online giving is holding steady at only 8.7%.5 With the realization that multi-channel approaches generally yield the best results, there is no reason to expect these ratios to drastically change.
Direct mail also holds a number of other advantages when compared to other channels. Donors are more likely to read a piece of direct mail from an organization, believe it’s better at telling a touching story, and think that it’s better at conveying facts. 6
Why is direct mail so useful for nonprofits?
Direct mail is so useful for nonprofits because of how different it is from any other channel. The obvious point is that it’s physical and donors have to touch it. That physical presence is a positive for a number of reasons. After all, direct mail for nonprofits allows you to:
Remind current donors of your presence and appreciation
In order for donors to give to your organization, they have to think about you. There’s no better way to get in front of the eyes of a donor than a physical piece of mail. Even if they don’t respond to every direct mail appeal, staying in a donor’s mind is important so that you stay front and center when it does come time to give.
Connect with older or more mature supporters
Older demographics are both the most likely to give financial support to a cause, and the most responsive to direct mail relative to other channels.6 While you might be thinking that this means direct mail is on its way out as generations age, the trends show that people’s preferences continue to change as they age to reflect the existing stats.
Keep supporters in the loop
Direct mail is also a great way to keep supporters informed. As pointed out earlier, people are more likely to read a piece of direct mail than other channels. If you need to convey important information or continuously share updates with supporters, especially if face-to-face communication is out of the question, direct mail is your best option. It can be used to share news about upcoming virtual events, urgent donation needs, or simply keep donors and supporters in-the-know.
How to choose the right direct mail fundraising partner
Nonprofits have a lot to consider when it comes to choosing a direct mail partner. In our experience, there are really four areas in picking the best path: cost, experience, ease-of-use, and support. The ideal partner checks off all these boxes, with low prices, decades of nonprofit-specific expertise, quick and simple printing/mailing, and responsive support. Let’s walk through each characteristic in further detail.
Low cost and transparent pricing
Through our work with nonprofits, we know that cost and pricing are of utmost importance to organizations. Nonprofit budgets are generally spread thin to maximize the amount going to support the cause. However, this shouldn’t restrict nonprofits from getting high-quality direct mail.
There are more than 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the US, and less than 7% of all registered charities bring in more than $1 million in revenue each year. Since the cost of marketing personnel or agency consultants are often prohibitive for these smaller organizations, the need for an experienced partner for small charities is paramount.7
Options for direct mail
Nonprofits will also want to find a direct mail partner that has options for appeals. Sometimes you’ll need to be asking for donations while other times you’ll be asking for volunteer support or sending out event invites. The less time you have to think about anything other than your cause, the better off your organization is.
Willing to help and adapt
There are always going to be questions or advice needed on fundraising, direct mail, or the overall nonprofit space. Ideally, you’ll find a partner that is quick to respond and knowledgeable enough to give you useful answers. There are some things even Google can’t answer, which is where helpful experts come in.
Our Solution? GivingMail – the people-powered direct mail company
GivingMail was built by nonprofit fundraising professionals to fill the gap for small and mid-size charities. We’ve been a part of and supported nonprofits for over half a century and have seen large charities reaping the rewards of marketing teams and agencies in their fundraising. That being said, we figured it was time for smaller organizations to have access to those same benefits in a powerful and affordable way.
GivingMail provides the expertise learned from all over the nonprofit world and delivers it to any organization in an easy-to-use online platform. Here are some key selling points for this direct mail company:
- Pricing: Direct mail pricing can be confusing with option after option and hidden fees. To make it as simple as possible, we have an all-inclusive pricing table; from production to postage to mailing, the price you see on this table is the price you pay at checkout.
- Experience: We come from over 70 years of fundraising expertise and know the ins and outs of direct mail, fundraising in general, and the nonprofit world. We’ve tried our best to build this expertise into the site to streamline your experience.
- Options: There are literally thousands of mailing options – from one-sided to two-sided, one color, two-color, four-color, paper size, envelope, etc. It’s overwhelming. Through thousands of A/B tests over the decades, we’ve decided to bring you the options that have the most success. No need to wonder and hope what the right choice is for your appeal.
- Support: Our site is designed to be easy for nonprofits to navigate, learn, use, and benefit from. But, there are always going to be questions. We pride ourselves in going above and beyond for our customers to help them in any way we can.
Direct Mail Fundraising Best Practices
Nonprofits don’t generally have the advantage of an experienced advertising team. If you’re looking for a fundraising appeal template to get you started or want an in-depth walkthrough of how to put one together, be sure to check out our templates and our fundraising appeal guide.
That said, here are some of the best practices for nonprofit direct mail fundraising if you’re looking for a quick start.
Be specific with your calls to action and donation requests
Make sure that the recipient of your appeal knows exactly what you want them to do. This seems obvious, but one of the worst things you can do is overwhelm or confuse your potential donor. A clear and concise ask is as important as anything.
You’ll also want to be specific. It’s always best to suggest amounts for their donation; i.e. “$10, $25, $50, $100, other” as an array of checkboxes to put certain amounts in the reader’s head. You can see this on our templates when designing our fundraising package.
If you have the data, the absolute best thing you can do is cater that ask array (list of suggestions) to the donors’ giving history. That way, someone who last gave $200 doesn’t get the same ask as someone who gave $25. Don’t worry if you don’t have this information now, but you should be collecting it in the future.
Prominently highlight contact information
Make sure the recipient knows how to get in touch with you. They may have a question or two before donating, or perhaps they want to volunteer or become more informed. Regardless of what it is, having easy-to-see contact info on your letter ensures they get the best experience possible with your organization.
Offer multiple giving options
For fundraising letters, make sure that it’s as easy as possible for the potential donor to give. This means letting them know about every giving channel and, in the best situations, providing a reply envelope for them to send you a donation in.
Make sure your direct mail appeals are easy to read
You want the recipient to actually read your appeal. The best way to make this happen is to keep it simple. Avoid small fonts, high-level vocabulary, and distracting layouts. The goal is to get the reader to connect to the words and your cause, so simplicity is key.
Partner with GivingMail for Your Nonprofit’s Direct Mail Fundraising Campaign
GivingMail is here to support nonprofits like you. If you’re planning a direct mail fundraising campaign or have any questions related to direct mail, fundraising, or the nonprofit space – we’re happy to be of service.
Our platform is easy-to-use, built off of decades of industry expertise, and both faster and cheaper than buying the paper, ink, and postage it would take to do this at-home. Sign up to get started with your campaign today.