Why Direct Mail Fundraising is Better This Year-End Giving Season

Blog post by Erica Waasdorp

year-end giving

This past weekend, I spent several hours going through the stack of direct mail packs I had  received in the past two weeks. I reviewed each one, identified organizations I’d like to donate to and then I scanned in those that could help give me some new ideas for year-end giving appeals for organizations I work with. 

Every year around this time, I talk to nonprofits, struggling to decide if they should send out a direct mail appeal at year-end. Sadly, every year, some organizations drag their feet too long  that they end up missing out on the best time of the year to generate the funds they need to support their mission! 

Why does this happen? I think there are several reasons really. Most of them are based on myths that keep surfacing time and time again. Most of these myths are related  to social media, email and the expected cost of direct mail fundraising. 

Let’s ‘kill’ some direct mail fundraising myths right now! 

Myth 1: No one reads direct mail these days. Everybody is on social media!

Fact. If your typical donor is over 50, direct mail still plays a big role in their giving decisions. 

Fact. Direct mail will drive donors to give online. So, if you don’t consider your online gifts when evaluating your direct mail campaigns, you’re not really evaluating the media combination. 

Fact. Direct mail is still the number one way to reach someone, especially as mailboxes are less cluttered and email boxes are filled more than ever before. 

Fact. People still love to touch things and direct mail does just that.

Fact. A combination of direct mail, email and social media is even more powerful but direct mail is the big work horse!

Fact. You don’t have email addresses for all your donors. 

Myth 2: If I just do well on #GivingTuesday and raise a lot of money, I don’t have to send direct mail.

I must admit, I’m not one of those consultants who is gung-ho about #GivingTuesday. Rather, I  think it’s important that you communicate with your donors on an ongoing basis, not just on #GivingTuesday. In fact, I think you’re better off starting your email messaging well before that day and you’ll raise a lot more money. 

Fact. The competition on #GivingTuesday is huge and unless you have a unique match offer or an amazing video that donors are immediately tempted to open, you’ll have a hard time standing out from the crowd. 

Fact. If you wait to raise funds until #GivingTuesday,  it will be too late to do anything else. The only recourse at that point is to pick up the phone and call those donors who used to give at year-end. Waiting to send direct mail  last minute and expecting it to be in homes before the holiday is going to be almost impossible. 

Myth 3: Direct Mail fundraising is expensive. 

Fact. Cost is always relative! You should never look at the total cost, but always compare it with the cost to raise a dollar and then decide the real cost of direct mail fundraising. 

The cost to raise a dollar is calculated as follows: Total cost divided by total money raised. 

For example, if it costs you $1,000 and you raise $5,000, the cost to raise a dollar was $0.20 and you have a Return  on Investment of 5 to 1. Where do you get that in the Stock Market? 

Let’s look at two examples. 

If you have fewer than 1,000 donors, you can consider printing something in-house and sending it out using first class stamps. It’s going to take some time and you’ll need a bunch of volunteers, but it can be done within a few days. The only cost is the printing of an outside envelope, the letters, a return envelope and postage and you may be able to that for the $1,000 I mentioned above. 

But the minute you have more than 1,000 donors, you’ll be wise to outsource the printing, inserting and personalization. It will cost you a bit of money, but your time is worth money too. well. 

If you’re busy stuffing envelopes, you won’t have time to talk to your donors and ask them for a larger gift. Add to this the fact that using a lettershop/mail house will always mean that you get better postage rates. Instead of spending $0.55 you’re looking at spending $0.17/$0.18 nonprofit rate. 

If you’re mailing 2,500 donors and you’re raising $18,000 at a cost of $2,000, that’s a return of investment of 9 to 1 and a cost to raise a dollar of $0.11!  Trust me, these are real results from real nonprofits. 

Rather than looking at the overall cost, I urge you to look at the cost of NOT doing it. 

I hope I’ve explained why direct mail fundraising can and should  be a major workhorse for your organization. 

But why is direct mail fundraising better this year-end giving season?  Let me give you the five most important reasons. 

  1. Donors want to help make a difference. They also MUST be asked to donate and when you ask them, many of them will give!
  2. Thanksgiving and Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays bring out the best in people and they feel most generous. They’re most willing to give back, pay it forward and make a difference to those who are less fortunate and supporting a charity does exactly that. 
  3. Direct mail can drive people to give online. Don’t forget to count your unexpected gifts that are not trackable to emails or social media. I’ve read statistics where nonprofits have tracked those, and they found that some 10% – 15% of their online donations had been triggered by direct mail!
  4. Donors want to get the tax deduction. For the average donor, this is usually the least important reason. But as the calendar year ends, so do the opportunities to generate those tax-deductions so the deadline of December 31st is a big driver. 
  5. It’s a way to appeal to donors in ways that are more tangible than emails or social media ever could be. You are most likely to reach your donors in the mail. You can’t reach everybody by email or social media. The combination of DM, Email, social media and even the phone  are the most powerful one’s out there.  

I’m a baby boomer, so direct mail is one of the best ways to effectively reach me! If the mail pile in my office is any indication, the competition in the mailbox is indeed fierce, but now’s the time to get those donations in the door and direct mail fundraising has a surefire way of making that happen. So, don’t wait till it’s too late!

And, just planting the seed, don’t ONLY mail at year-end time but spread out some appeals throughout the year and you’ll raise even more money! 

What are the elements of a good year-end giving direct mail appeal? 

This is where there is no one answer because  it all depends. Here are just a few pointers. 

  • Start with what your donors are used to getting. How did you bring them into your organization to begin with? 
  • Choose the right groups. Don’t give up on your donors too soon. Depending upon the size of your organization, consider including even those donors who gave at some point but haven’t given in 5 years. Give them a separate code and track the results and see what happens. 
  • Come up with ONE story. Make it compelling. Include a picture/pictures but don’t overdo it. Make sure the picture fits with the story. Sad stories always work  better than happy stories. The donor can help turn a sad story around! Think of it from that angle. 
  • Repeat your asks for a donation, at least three times. 
  • Help the donor set the price. Give examples of how their gift can make a difference.
  • Always upgrade your donors to higher levels. This is the big advantage of personalization based upon the donor’s prior gift. You don’t want to ask for $50 if the donor has already given $100. Rather you want to ask for $100 and even $150 or $200*. A lot of research has already gone into ask amounts. Every organization is different, ideally, you should  test which ask strategy works best. 
  • Include a deadline, like December 31st but always ask the donor to donate TODAY! That’s the real urgency. 
  • Make it easy for the donor to give, so include a reply envelope and a personalized reply form. All they must do is pop in the check, fill out their credit card information or go to your website to donate. (Ideally include a special web site URL so you can track donations from the appeal). 
  • Try to be consistent in your messaging. Repurposing is more than OKAY! It’s okay to use a good story in your emails and your appeal. One thing confirms and strengthens the other. I’ve never heard a donor complain that someone had the audacity to send them the same story! Especially if you struggle to find and create stories for your nonprofit, reuse it. 
  • Make sure the appeal gets in the donor’s hands before Thanksgiving, but no later than the first week in December. That’s why you see so many organizations who send a first appeal in September, followed by another one (sometimes a simple COPY of the earlier appeal) in November. The two combined raise even more money. Better too early than too late. 

There you have it. If you follow these guidelines, tips and leave the myths behind, you’ll be much better off. I’d love to hear from you in the New Year about your experiences with direct mail fundraising this year-end giving season. 

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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.

Happy Holidays!