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Best Practices

You likely don’t mail your supporters as often as you email them or communicate with them through social media. Despite some decline over the last few years, direct mail is still a viable, successful platform for appeals. Whether you are mailing your core supporters, or renting a list to contact new prospects, consider these practices as you craft your direct response strategy.

Find Your Story

In the frenzy of finalizing the list of individuals you want to mail and standardizing addresses, it’s easy to lose focus on the central point: the story behind your appeal. Whether they’ve volunteered with you for years or are hearing from you for the first time, you’ll want to make your recipients excited and motivated to get involved.

Build time into your team’s schedule to brainstorm themes, central messages, and ideas for your appeals. You’ll want to allow yourself some creativity to create a message that feels personalized to the reader, that resonates with them, and showcases the need for their support. Though it may seem easier said than done, many organizations are successfully harnessing the power of their storytelling each day.

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List Rental

Some organizations chose to purchase or rent a list to conduct prospecting. Composed of individuals in your area that have never given to you before, a prospecting means cold calling individuals, introducing them to your organization, and hopefully getting them to donate. Since prospect mailings require that you pay for a list rental and postage fees, they are more expensive to conduct than mailing your housefile. You’ll also want to ensure that they abide by common security and privacy frameworks.



Despite some decline in the popularity of direct mail, individuals of all ages still consider it an acceptable way to be asked to give.6

While it varies from organization to organization, you should avoid over-soliciting your list. if you are repeating the same messaging too often and delivering content that doesn’t land, your strategy could lose effectiveness. Depending on how frequently you can afford to mail, you’ll want to ensure that your content not only contains an ask but also incorporates other calls to action—such as supporting an advocacy initiative or a major organizational update or attending an event.

While there’s no set limit, you should test what frequency of mailings sits well with your supporters. You should seek out a balance between what you can afford to do—monetarily and in terms of team bandwidth—with what your supporters are most apt to respond to.

6 2018, Blackbaud Institute, The Next Generation of American Giving


Go Multichannel

A multichannel approach is increasingly a mainstay within the sector, with your supporters scattered across a variety of platforms. Your supporter is likely checking their email and Instagram more often than their postal mail. Coordinating direct mail campaigns with your other platforms will help increase your engagement with constituents and keep them remembering who you are. Look for opportunities to leverage the content from your mailings by repurposing a few quotes or themes within your other platforms.


Measure Effectiveness

Given the investment of time and money that goes into direct mailing, testing should be a foundational component in your strategy. Think through what success means for any given campaign. Consider what the costs of mailing are against the amount of revenue it brings in, and whether you can quantify engagement of your supporters through non-monetary means, like through an increase in inquiries, volunteer participation, or event attendance from the individuals you mailed.

It might seem intuitive, but many organizations don’t go back and measure the impacts of their campaigns. If you can, generate a list of metrics that you can focus on, and try to assess whether they improved your ability to fundraise. An A/B or “split” test would allow you to split your housefile into two groups to conduct an experiment. Testing for one variable at a time, you can better track what does and does not work for your supporters, such as the color of your header, adding the appeal to the first paragraph rather than the end, inserting a key phrase, and more. Once you’ve dialed into what works for your tested audience, use the more effective strategy to reach your core supporters.

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