More Cool Stuff to Know and Love About Direct Mail

More Cool Stuff to Know and Love About Direct Mail

Isn’t direct mail fundraising FUN?

If you are in the midst of writing your Spring Appeal letters, or getting out that Earth Day message to your loyal supporters, you’re probably aware that getting the appeal out is not as easy as it might seem. Worse, everyone has an idea about what will work based on “what they would or wouldn’t read and respond to.” (Most of these well-meaning advisors are wrong.) And how do you balance what the “experts” tell you (four-page letters) with the siren call of being green enough to not waste paper and hip enough to have it designed by a professional PR firm whose managing partner sits on your board?

Well, if you want help with all of that, type “Appeal” into the search engine in the upper right hand corner of this blog – I have lots of other posts about writing appeal letters. This post is just to add a few new things to your direct mail arsenal to help you raise more money!

Let’s assume that you are preparing fundraising letters that are already perfect. What’s going to happen now?

  • Some people will respond to your requests for money every time you ask.
  • Some people will occasionally write a check.
  • Some people will mean to write a check and then get busy and forget.
  • Some people will open it and discard it.
  • Some people will round-file it without giving it a second look.
  • Some people will never respond to anything but a renewal notice – period.

So my question is this: MUST we keep mailing to people who don’t and won’t respond? This and other exciting direct mail questions are detailed below.

Code your responses: You can code the response card or the response envelope either one, but you want to know which mailing the person is responding to. This is just one reason why I’m not a real fan of one-size-fits-all envelopes. If you’re using one of these, where the envelope flap doubles as a response devise, then you’ll need to code them by hand (make a stamp), but DO code them. Codes can be interpretable, like “20160419-100” ($100 request mailed on 4/19), or you can make them obtuse, like “anch-4” (total gibberish translated with a key to mean $100 request mailed on 4/19). As long as YOU can track responses back to specific mailings, you’re OK.

ONE way to use the information that comes back is to keep track of donors who do not respond to the appeal. For example, if they do not respond to three Spring Appeals in a row, you might consider dropping them for the next several years. You might try again every once in a while after that to see if they change their mind. But otherwise just save the money it normally takes to send them the appeal.

Track the Half-Life: If you will start consistently tracking the day you receive the gift that represents the half-way point (in numbers of responses) of your total responses, it will begin to give you an increasingly accurate predictor of total results. For most organizations, the half-life doesn’t move much over time. So if your half-life is 12 days and your Spring Appeal has 50 responses 12 days after you dropped it in the mail, chances are you’ll get 100 responses total. This might help you if you’re running close to the edge of the fiscal year – maybe getting out one more letter might put you over.

Ask for $100: For many people, $100 is what they take out of the ATM without thinking too much about it. I’m not saying that everyone will give you $100 if you ask for it, but I am saying that it’s not unfair to ask. I’ve worked with three separate organizations in the last several years who moved from asking for “generous gifts” to asking for $100. In each case they more than doubled their return.

Segment the audience: In addition to asking most people for $100, you should ask some people for $250, and maybe even some others for $500 and $1,000 – all based on what they have given in previous years. This process is called audience segmentation. The better you get at it, the more money you will raise. Keep this fundamental premise in mind: Always ask for a specific amount of money (don’t leave it vague). This means that by asking everyone for $100, you will be asking some people for $100 who gave $500 last year – not a great plan. (Yes, Tim. This means you’ll need to do more than one merge.)

Teasers are over-rated: According to blogger Jeff Brooks, “an envelope with no teaser outperforms one with a teaser.” Don’t believe it? Test it using an A/B model.

Send a warm-up piece: Many organizations report enhanced results when the newsletter is dropped 2-3 weeks in front of an appeal. This works even when it’s not a newsletter. A postcard mailed in front of an appeal will work as well, or a field trip catalogue, or an open house invitation, or….

Sell the monthly program: Especially for Spring Appeals, promote your monthly giving program if you have one. Small amounts committed every month can add up to big differences.


Just trying to be more “appealing,”





Photo credit: Bloodroot courtesy of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.


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Will I see you at a conference this spring? This spring I’m heading to state conferences in Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. I’m also planning to attend the River Rally in Mobile, Alabama.

Will I see you there?


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If your membership every year is relatively stable, and your renewal rate is 70% or less, more than half of your current members are in their first two years of membership. Think about that when you write your renewal and appeal letters. Think about that when you write your newsletter articles. Are you writing to your audience – an audience that is just beginning to learn the land conservation business?


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about for April. What are YOU thinking about?


Getting My Files Organized:  I am – admittedly, and proudly – an “old fart.” I still use paper files and I still depend on them, even though I get better every year at finding things electronically. Regardless, April is a good month to get whatever-files-you-have organized. Take the time in April to get your files (be they paper or electronic) in order. Start with your board members and former board members. Then work on your top donors. Pretend that no one who knows this person is still around. How can you organize the information in such a way that a relative newcomer can learn it quickly?


Renewing Lapsed Members:  My basic system for renewing members was to send them a sequence of an email, four letters, and a phone call (usually resulting in a message left on a machine). Still some people simply did not respond at all. And that group represented an important audience for me because wooing them back was easier and cheaper than replacing them with someone new. But how to woo them back?


Donor Screening:  Second only to formally soliciting your Board Members to make their own gift commitments, Donor Screening is probably the most important tool for getting Board Members started with major gift fundraising. And April is a great month to do it. For more information about donor screening, look on my Resources Page for the Donor Screening fact sheet.


Spring Appeal:  If you’re doing a Spring Appeal this year (and I recommend it) you should send it out in April. I like sending Spring Appeals out to members and donors asking them to help with something other than operations; like money to buy a stewardship truck for example, or to raise the closing costs on a spectacular new preserve. To maximize results, you’ll want to pay attention to all the rules of direct mail marketing, and you’ll want to send out at least one follow-up letter. So – mail the first letter toward the end of April and one the week before Memorial Day.


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