mailbox.jpgDirect Mail is a type of Direct Response Marketing. For non-profits, it is not only a key fundraising technique, it is also essential to raise awareness about your organzation. When Development Directors consider non-profit fundraising ideas to grow their database and organization, they must consider direct mail.

Direct Response Marketing and Direct Mail


First of all, what is Direct Response? Direct Response is the use of a variety of different media, not just to spread information, but to get a response from the packages. These Direct Response packages can be in the form of Direct Mail, e-mail campaigns, banner ads on the internet, newspaper ads with a coupon response, or even telephone calls. Regardless of the medium, Direct Response is done with the intent of collecting a tangible response. (For more on what Direct Response is, and why it’s important, click here.)

When a television commercial campaign is run, it may be very effective and beautifully executed, but it isn’t always possible to determine the exact number of items purchased as a result of that campaign. Direct Response is different. When we report results from a campaign, we’re using the actual number of responses. We aren’t taking a guess at how much impact this campaign had; we know, because we tabulate each and every response.

Direct Mail in non-profit fundraising is a mailing by a non-profit organization to get a specific response from supporters or potential supporters. These responses can include making a donation, signing a petition, or volunteering. Which is why it is so important and a key fundraising technique for all non-profits. Through Direct Mail you are able to understand what donors are responding to, which campaigns are most effective, and which causes attract the most new donors.

Direct Mail is STILL a Key Fundraising Technique

Now that we know that Direct Mail is a type of Direct Response, let’s examine why we advise non-profits to use Direct Mail as a fundraising and cultivation tool.

Despite all of the developments related to the web and electronic communication, Direct Mail is still the bedrock of non-profit fundraising efforts. This includes soliciting your house file and new member, or donor, acquisition programs. (To see some stats on how Direct Mail performs against internet campaigns, check out our blog Direct Mail Solutions).

That Direct Mail is still the bedrock of non-profit fundraising comes as a surprise to many, especially those enamored by the relative ease of internet marketing. But, in spite of all its challenges, Direct Mail still makes up the vast majority of funds for non-profits and businesses. “Direct Mail response rates outperform digital channels by a long shot.”

Why Direct Mail is one of the best non-profit fundraising ideas

When people think of non-profit fundraising ideas, they often become hesitant when considering Direct Mail. After all, Direct Mail is expensive, takes a lot of time, and requires a high level of expertise. But it is the most effective and secure way for non-profits to raise funds for their organization.

There are a number of different reasons why this is so. One reason is that if Direct Mail is done well, it’s a detailed communication that gives an interested recipient all the information they want about an organization and its appeal.  Direct mail copywriting should tell the reader how the money will be used, allaying their fears that the money may not really go towards the projects. It makes it easy for them to become contributors or to continue contributing.

The fact is people like to get mail that interests them. They like to read about subject matter they’re interested in, especially in the context of fundraising for a non-profit they support.

The reality is that most people who contribute to non-profits are usually older and retired.  Retirees – 65 years and older – like to get mail. They are interested in opening that envelope and reading that letter, even if it’s eight pages long (see our blog on Length of Letter). They will read it with great attention. The fact that Direct Mail reaches this demographic is advantageous because they are the portion of the population who have built up disposable income or assets. People in their 40s are still struggling to raise children, send them to school, pay off mortgages, and so on. Somebody who’s 65 is probably retired, living on the proceeds of a 401K, IRA, or some other kind of pension. Because they’ve done a good job of planning for that retirement, they have enough money to be able to contribute to a non-profit that they like when an appeal convinces them of a good cause. It’s hard to achieve results like these in the context of the internet communication, as they tend to be short. It’s hard to get the full message across in so little time.

Another important factor of Direct Mail is that for decades and decades, many non-profits built up donor lists.  When these donors have given through the mail, they will likely contribute in that manner again.  Email lists are much newer. They are valuable, but the case for email prospecting ROI has not been made. We are still learning how people really behave on the internet, in regards to non-profits and giving. Direct Mail, on the other hand, has been studied, tested, and developed for decades.

Direct mail is still the heavyweight champ of fundraising outreaches. And so far, competing online media like emails, search engine marketing, banner ads and social media, aren’t even contenders..

What do we know so far?

  • Most people who give are older. This fact has been proven again and again. Although it is important to develop relationships with younger donors, you have to recognize who it is that supports your organization. All your Direct Mail packages, internet campaigns, and e-mail marketing should be designed with this fact in mind – most people who give are over 60.
  • Direct Mail lists are invaluable. People like mail, trust mail and respond to mail.  Acquiring lists (from reputable Direct Mail companies) is worthwhile. In the long run, these lists keep your non-profit going. Your house list will deplete over time, and you must replenish it to be able to support your non-profit..


Fundraising for non-profits is challenging. So what’s the solution? Direct Mail. When you start your fundraising campaign, you should see Direct Mail as the engine that drives the train. Everything else you do should revolve around your Direct Mail campaign. It may seem intimidating to get going, but the results speak for themselves.


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