Direct mail fundraising gives nonprofit organizations the ability to solicit support from a wide cross-section of potential donors.
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But there's a downside: Direct mail is expensive and even the most successful return rates struggle to break single digits.
With so much riding on a single piece of correspondence, can direct mail solicitation be a profitable nonprofit fundraising tool for your organization?
Each year, thousands of nonprofits turn to direct mail vehicles to solicit funding for their organizations. Some succeed, but others fail simply because they didn't know what they were getting into before they started dropping letters in the outbox. Here's what they wish they knew ahead of time . . .
A direct mail letter is unlike any other piece of correspondence your organization creates. Preferred length is a single page, but under no circumstances should your letter exceed two pages. Additionally, it's important to strike a balance between text and white space (unprinted areas of the page) since tight margins and tiny print are instant turnoffs to readers. Every word counts, so the goal is to get your message out quickly, clearly, and in a style that catches the reader's attention. Here's another tip: An unusually high percentage of readers peruse the postscript before they read the main body of the letter so it's worth the time to add a "P.S." that reinforces your main point.
The long hours you spend crafting a quality direct mail letter will be wasted unless you are able to place the letter in the right hands. You could blanket the community with direct mail letters, but doing so would likely result in a waste of resources as your success rate nosedives. A better approach is to target your mailing to readers who are preconditioned to give to your cause. Focused mailing lists can be purchased from list brokers based on geography, interests, and other factors. Although the purchase of mailing lists represents an additional fee, it's money well-spent if it connects the letter with the people who are most likely to make a donation.
Nonprofit organizations have the ability to reduce their overall mailing costs through nonprofit, bulk-rate postage. This is a perk that you can't afford to ignore since nonprofits typically enjoy as much as a 40% discount over commercial mailers. To apply for a nonprofit, bulk-rate permit, you need to determine your eligibility and complete PS Form 3624 at the post office through which you plan to do the mailings. Where you submit the form is important because permits are not transferable between post offices.
Your goal is to make the donation as simple as possible, and the way to do that is to seriously consider the response mechanism you will include with the mailing. Your printer should be able to offer suggestions based on the experience of other nonprofits, but ultimately you need to make sure that the mailing clearly describes the simplest way for a donor to contribute. On your end, it's also a good idea to have a mechanism in place to record donor responses when they arrive back on your doorstep.