Don’t Be Afraid to Try Direct Response
Sometimes, saying you are a fundraiser can be tough; it just isn’t as exciting as saying you are an astronaut or a supermodel.
Trust me; I know. My niche in fundraising is direct response — you know, things like e-appeals and direct mail. Granted, it’s not as sexy as taking donors to the golf course or hosting the annual major donor cruise, but I’m proud of what I do because I have seen the results of the money I have raised over the years. And if someone says to me, “Oh, you do junk mail?” that’s OK. I know that what they disparagingly refer to is — or should be — an important tool of almost every fundraising program at every nonprofit.
Whoa! That’s kind of a 1980s statement, but, actually, in 2022, nonprofits are raising money with direct mail as a part of the whole fundraising program. These are large organizations to small ones, and it’s working for them because they have learned the most important truth about direct mail: It is one of the tools we can use, in concert with other tools, to maximize income for our programs.
I believe so much in direct mail — because of the results I’ve seen — that I’ve decided to try again to convince some of the naysayers out there to give it a try. Don’t worry — I won’t be hurt if you are rolling your eyes about now. After all, I taught fundraising at the university level for a decade, and I’ve heard it all from my Gen X and Millennial students. But since I’m seeing direct mail have exciting results in 2022, that’s enough for me to give it another shot.
So, I challenge you: If you aren’t including direct mail in your fundraising strategy, do so. But do it wisely by following this proven advice.
- Plan your entire direct response activity before you begin. Direct mail is not a standalone fundraising tool, but instead part of a multi-effort project to maximize results. After you mail the letter, how many follow-up e-appeals will you send, and when? Can you realistically call your major donors to follow up and answer questions? Is hand-signing the letters to the major donors feasible? What will the thank-you message to your donors say?
- Only use partners who have expertise in direct mail. A writer who specializes in nonprofit fundraising will be able to take your ideas and turn them into copy that leads to donations. A direct response designer knows that the design supports the words, not carries the message on its own. A good printer can be invaluable in helping you design a letter that is the most cost-effective layout possible.
- Talk to the donor in your copy, not to your board chair or CEO. Your donors likely support three or four other nonprofits in addition to yours, according to Nonprofits Source. Meet them where they are instead of shouting at them to hurry up and catch up. Tell a story. Share a personal experience. Show the reader what their gift will accomplish. Be clear about what you are asking for. Don’t be ashamed to ask for money. Scientific studies show that giving to charity makes the giver happy. Be proud when you ask!
- Avoid the temptation to think you have to create an award-winning package. Instead, focus on creating a money-raising appeal. Despite having won a few awards in my day, I am most proud of the packages that raised a lot of money. Direct mail is not a beauty contest; it’s all about the bottom line.
- Mail consistently. Start with just a couple of letters a year. Obviously, year-end is key (though that means getting in-home in November or very early December to give people time to respond), plus choose another time that makes sense for your organization — spring, summer, back-to-school or whatever. Mailing just once a year will likely not succeed; my theory is that every letter ends up having to reintroduce you, so donors are more likely to ignore it.
Come on — be brave! Commit to doing two direct mail letters in 2022 and discover how direct mail done right can provide meaningful net income for your organization.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.