Direct Mail For Nonprofits – The Number One Thing To Consider Before Sending Your Next Campaign

Blog post by Erica Waasdorp

Direct Mail For Nonprofits

What’s the number one question to answer when creating a direct mail appeal for your nonprofit?

If you’ve answered, ‘who is going to be featured in the letter’, sorry, think again. If your answer is ‘when to mail your next appeal letter’, think again. If you’d say, ‘how long should the letter be’, think again.

Let me help a little: The number one question to answer to make your nonprofits direct mail appeal successful is…

Who will your nonprofit send it’s direct mail to?

Did you know that 50% of your nonprofits direct mail success comes from the target group? Fifty percent!

But, where do you spend most of your time? I bet you’ll say: “Of course, the letter!” Well, the letter and creative piece only count for 20% of the results. You can have the perfect letter, but if you’re not sending it to the right donors, you’re not going to bring in the donations.

I’ve been doing direct mail for nonprofits a very long time. I’ve seen successes. I’ve seen failures.  I’ve seen how most nonprofits often times agonize about the letter.

Thinking of the right person to interview. Then contacting the client, patient or benefactor, sometimes donor. Weeks go by. Months pass. Multiple versions. Writes and rewrites. Committees. Grammar experts. Struggling to fit it all one side. Decide who signs it. And on and on.

Then comes even more agonizing about the color of the envelope, the design of the letter and the reply envelope or reply form.

Nonprofit direct mail success is not about the green envelope

I remember working with an arts organization years ago. How the local printer and I scouted around for the ‘right’ color green. And then the Executive director ended up choosing something that wasn’t green at all, in fact it was the most horrid brown you could imagine. I was literally tearing my hair out and so was the printer.

Fortunately, we had selected the right target group: active donors who would be most interested in our nonprofits direct mail appeal we were planning to send out, and the potential match that came with it.

The nonprofits direct mailing raised a boatload of money and they got the match to boot!

Did it help that the envelope was a different color? Yes, it helped 20%. Did it help that the letter was personalized and included the donor’s name who was well known in the area? Yes, that too helped 20%. Did it help that there was a personalized reply form in it? Yes!

But, had we sent this to people who didn’t know the organization yet, it would not have generated the response we wanted.

Why segmenting and targeting direct mail for nonprofits is key

We had spent quite a bit of time making sure the segments were correct. We ran the donor list through National Change of Address, so the donors’ addresses were up-to-date. We made sure the prior giving amount was on the list, so we could personalize the ask.

The segments were truly the driver of this appeal and we had planned in that extra time to make sure they were perfect. We narrowed the list to identify possible mid and high-end donors, and gave them their own segment so we could track how small donors compared to high donors.

In short, all elements TOGETHER generated the success of this direct mail appeal.

So, rather than spending all your time worrying about the letter, START with the segmenting your donor base and any possible (warm) prospects you’d like to send your appeal to.

Then create the letter, consider any variations you may need to make to accommodate for different segments and then get into the design.  

The importance of direct mail planning

Next time you start working on a direct mail appeal for your nonprofit, create a schedule. Include the donor base/segment review as something to be addressed very early on. In this day and age with laser printing and mail merges, you can easily customize and segment all direct mail for your nonprofit.

Add a ‘we miss you message’ to your lapsed donors. Don’t drop your lapsed donors too soon!

Take your time to look at your donor base and create the segments you think are most relevant for the upcoming appeal. Then write the letter, versions and any other elements accordingly.  

You’ll raise more money by focusing on a targeted group than anything else!

Want to learn more about using direct mail for your nonprofit?

Join me for “Direct Mail is Not All About Writing” A Charity How To webinar to learn how to successfully organize and execute direct mail appeals.

About the author

Building partnerships and trying to find the best solution for donors and her clients are what Erica Waasdorp does best. Her multi-lingual skills and multi-cultural experience bring added value to those clients interested in raising money internationally. And her experience in monthly giving has given her an edge for those clients who are ready to embark on this way of giving.

Click here to view all webinars from Erica Waasdorp

For Further Reading

PS: For other idea’s on how to write direct mail or draft the perfect donation letter for your nonprofit, check out this article by our friends at: