Direct Mail Dos and Don'ts
Direct Mail Dos and Don'ts
Sept. 20, 2005
By Nancy Guy Freeman
Are your direct-mail fundraising efforts floundering? Wishing you could increase response rates or improve donor retention? Are you representing your organization effectively? Maybe it's time to review some obvious -- and not so obvious -- best practices of direct-mail fundraising:
- Be creative, be clever, and try new ideas -- but do NOT be deceptive in your copy or packaging. Scandals among some of the biggest and most respected nonprofits have created enough concern and suspicion in donors' minds -- make sure you keep your message and creative honest and straightforward.
- Mail OFTEN. Too many organizations rely on one or two annual appeals for their direct-mail fundraising efforts. What if your only appeal doesn't perform as well as expected or hoped? What will you do next year? Only by mailing regularly and throughout the year can you feel your donors' pulse and make educated decisions about what is working -- and what isn't.
- Have and express a passion for your cause. Make it personal to your donor. No one wants to donate money to pay your electric bill. Talk about why you need their donation, how it will be used, and how donations have helped the cause. Talk about the people (or animals, etc.) affected by your organization. Make it real to your donors -- make them feel a part of your mission.
- Don't be afraid to ask for money. Direct mail is only "junk mail" if the recipient doesn't care about your cause. If you're mailing to the right people, they'll want to hear from you. Don't wait until the last paragraph of a four-page letter to ask for a donation. Potential donors are expecting you to ask -- don't worry about offending them.
- Longer letters usually work better. Logic may dictate that your donors are busy and don't have time to read a four-page letter. Although that may be true, how much of a compelling case can you make in a one-page letter? You need to tell stories, and stories take space. Keep the paragraphs short and easy-to-read. Include a P.S. Use bold type or underlining, but use them sparingly.
- Don't let "branding" jeopardize your fundraising efforts. Maintaining a consistent look and feel is important for collateral materials -- and to some degree for your direct-marketing efforts. But if all of your direct-mail packages look the same -- your donors are going to assume they've seen them before -- and not even open them to read your great new copy. Vary the look and feel of your direct-mail efforts to keep them getting opened and read.
Think of your direct-mail package as an extension of your organization. You've knocked on their door, your visit was not expected, but you were invited inside. Why are you there? What is your message? Be respectful. Be interesting. Be honest. Be direct. And hopefully you'll be invited back.
Nancy Guy Freeman is a senior account executive at Rockville, Md.-based EU Services, a full-service printing and mailing company that specializes in direct mail. Freeman has over 25 years' experience in direct mail. She can be reached at 301.795.6340 or email@example.com .