Direct Mail Lists

Direct Mail Lists

May is a month when you turn the corner from the campaigns of the spring to outdoor activities in the summer and plans for the fall. Build in some time for reflection for sure, but realize that it’s not too early to begin planning for those fall donor events and appeals.

I’m going to start off May’s almanac entry with some thoughts about building prospecting lists, mostly because it’s got to go somewhere, and May is as good a time as any.


Fundraiser’s Almanac – May

  • Direct Mail Lists
  • Donor Event Planning
  • Taking Stock
  • Spring Appeal 2nd Drop


Prospecting lists are lists of people who have not yet given to the organization. Perhaps there is some reason to believe that they might someday. Perhaps they give to like-minded organizations or causes. Perhaps they came to your attention some other way.

Prospecting lists usually come to you in one of two ways: The list was generated by you as an internal list, or the list was acquired by you as an external list.

External lists are those you either buy or trade for. If you buy the list, you will want to buy it from a trusted source. Frankly, I would ask for references (other organizations that use their service) and follow them up.

There are lots of search parameters out there – it’s somewhat scary the information about people available for sale. Avoid the temptation to get a list based on household income or estimated net worth. One need not be rich to afford a $35 membership. But DO look for direct mail (or email) responsiveness and environmental affinity (they support environmental, conservation, or nature-related causes).

Lists can also be traded with (or purchased from) other like-minded organizations. Trades are usually done on a name-for-name basis, but know that few organizations will release their top donors, and some will mix current names with lapsed names. Know what you’re getting.

One handicap to purchased or traded lists is that the transaction is usually for one time use, and lists don’t usually perform well the first time out. You may want to negotiate a longer term relationship with the broker or organization to use their list several times over several years.

You can and should develop your own list, of course, and this is a good volunteer activity done over the summer months. Volunteers take gathered names, look up addresses as needed and populate a spreadsheet or simple database with the information. Here are several sources for new names:

  • Lapsed donors – don’t give up too easily on lapsed donors. Any donor whose membership expired three years ago or longer should be considered a new member prospect.
  • Volunteers – many volunteers have never given and many have never really been asked. One morning, I had a volunteer assembling hand-written letters asking $250 donors to increase their giving to $1,000 to join a new donor club. The letters were compelling and wonderful to read. She came up to me later and asked if she could join. Yes!
  • Names gathered from events, friends and family members suggested by board members or other people affiliated with your organization, people who buy merchandise, or people who call in for information.
  • Known community donors whose names appear on donor walls or on brick walkways (take pictures with your cell phone). Annual reports are also a good source of new donor names. You also might look at names of people who have donor advised funds in the local community foundation.
  • Rosters of activity groups like clubs organized for biking, hiking, fishing, rafting or canoeing, and so on.

When you assemble your final list, you are going to want to do three things before mailing to it: Verify the addresses, Code each one back to its source, and Merge/purge the resulting list

There are several inexpensive services that will clean up mailing lists. In general, they will standardize how the address is presented (making it easier to remove the duplicates), tell you who has moved and providing forwarding addresses, and clean up missing information.

Coding each address with a source code will help you keep track of which lists are doing well and which lists are duds. Source codes should not be confused with campaign codes, which are used to track gifts back to their solicitation letter. Source codes are used in the database. Campaign codes are printed on response cards.

Merge/Purge is a database process where you throw everyone into a pile and toss out the duplications. Your mailhouse should be able to do this for you. If you attempt it by yourself by hand, sort the list on the street address instead of on the name. It will be easier to spot the dupes.

The letter you write to prospective members is one of the longer letters. Make the case for supporting the organization generally and illustrate what you believe through the stories you share.

How is your spring fundraising going? Have you used any of the tips presented here? Let me know. If you’ll share, I’ll post all the ideas I am aware of on this blog.


PS: I had a great time this week at River Rally. Look for me soon at the PALTA Conference, and LTA’s Southeast Conference. See you there!


Related Posts:

Newsletter, Envelopes, and New Members

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