Direct Mail Fundraising: 6 Strategies for Every Nonprofit

Alex Jeter
January 11, 2019

Direct Mail Fundraising: 6 Strategies for Every Nonprofit

Direct mail fundraising is often a sore spot to talk about with many nonprofit organizations. Organizations tend to be hesitant toward this method because it is often viewed as old fashioned, so it's assumed that direct mail fundraising can't be enhanced by a tech solution. 

However, direct mail fundraising isn't out of style just yet. According to Nonprofit Source, marketing campaigns using a combination of direct mail and digital mail have a 28% higher conversion rate. Plus, contrary to popular belief, the best fundraising software will come with direct mail functionality!

Instead of limiting your communication methods to using only direct mail or digital fundraising, market using a combination of the two for the best outcome.

When you are creating your direct mail fundraising materials, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  1. Choose your audience wisely.
  2. Tell a story in your letter.
  3. Use "you-attitude."
  4. Create skimmable mail.
  5. Remember important keywords.
  6. Outsource your direct mail fundraising efforts.

Especially when you combine digital and non-digital fundraising strategies, it's important to maintain each source of information is unique and addressing a specific need in the process of building donor relations.

Let's dive in to learn more about how direct mail is unique and how nonprofits can best use this tool for the best return on your investment.

Carefully choose your direct mail fundraising audience.

1. Carefully Choose Your Direct Mail Fundraising Audience

There are two distinct types of direct mail fundraising depending on the audience you're reaching out to: housefile and prospecting.

Housefile mail is the first type of direct mail fundraising.

Compare housefile mail to prospecting mail, which can be defined as:

Prospecting mail is a type of direct mail fundraising that involves cold outreach to prospective new donors.

Because housefile mail tends to have a better ROI, we recommend that all nonprofits have a housefile mail strategy incorporated into their overarching fundraising strategy for the year.

If you have an effective fundraising CRM at your fingertips, it can be that much easier to find the particular donors you want to reach out to with housefile mail. These donors may include those who are:

  • Future major gift prospects. When you reach out to people using direct mail fundraising, you continue to build rapport that could lead to something greater down the line. Even if you're not expecting a donation right away, direct mail fundraising is a wonderful resource to build relationships.
  • Of a certain generation. 24% of Baby Boomer generation donors gave online because they were directed there from a direct mail resource and the majority of the Greatest Generation is still most likely to give through direct mail. Be mindful of generational preferences when you segment donor lists for direct mail fundraising.

Make sure when you are writing your fundraising appeals for donors, you have documented information that will lead you down the best path for a good ROI.

This means pushing donation opportunities through direct mail with people most likely to prefer this method of giving. It also means prioritizing relationship-building with those who may not be as apt to giving through direct mail, but who could be an asset through other means down the line.

Tell a story in your direct mail fundraising letters.

2. Tell A Story in Your Direct Mail Fundraising Letters

One key part of a direct mail fundraising letter is the storytelling aspect of the letter. When people are reading through their mail, you want to make sure you catch their attention right up front. Therefore, pull them in with a story!

There are a couple different stories that you could focus on in order to intrigue donors to give through direct mail: Your story or the story of an individual.

Tell your story in your direct mail fundraising letters.

Your Story

Your organization has a unique story. Telling people about the struggles and triumphs of your organization will show that you're a credible organization and trustworthy with their contribution.

This method is especially useful if your organization has a unique origin story.

For example, let's consider an organization that works to educate children in developing nations. This organization could explain in a letter that it was founded by a previous student of that country who received scholarship from a generous donor. Now the organization helps provide education to over 10,000 children every year.

The important elements to take away from this story include:

  • The inspiration of the nonprofit's foundation.
  • How the organization has grown and the success its had thus far.

With these elements, you'll inspire your donors by explaining your own inspiration, then crediting yourself by showing your own growth and organizational improvements.

Tell the story of an individual in your direct mail fundraising letters.

The Story of an Individual

Employing the stories of individuals is a method of inspiring donors that is an effective part of your strategy for both direct mail fundraising and digital fundraising.

In many debate classes, people talk about the power behind statistics verses stories. Statistics are great tools in many circumstances, but it's difficult to pull at people's heartstrings with statistics like you can with a good story.

The mission of nonprofits is benefited greatly by tugging at these heartstrings because they usually go towards a cause that has an incredible capacity to do so.

So why individuals? A study featured in Psychology Today explains a phenomenon called "collapse of compassion" when people are faced with multiple victims of circumstance. "Collapse of compassion" happens because when people see multiple victims, they are more likely to try to control their emotions otherwise, it might be too difficult to absorb.

Therefore, when you are writing a story in direct mail fundraising letter, and you're using pathos to evoke sympathy in your reader, focus on a single person's story to reduce collapse of compassion. This will create the most effective sympathetic outcome in your reader, and increase the chances of them donating.

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Use "you-attitude" while drafting direct mail fundraising letters.

3. Use "You-Attitude" While Drafting Fundraising Letters

"You-attitude" is a concept often found in business writing and is used to better connect with the reader.

The general philosophy behind "you-attitude" is that people tend to be more interested in their own actions or needs than in the writer's. Therefore, the most important word to include in your writing is the word "you."

Instead of framing your sentences around the needs of your organization, frame them around the actions of the donor. For example:

  • Not "you-attitude" adjusted: "We implore you to make a donation for..."
  • "You-attitude" adjusted: "Your donation will help us to..."

This strategy is used to help organizations better make connections to their donors. Instead of telling someone about their importance to your organization, you are showing them how important they really are through language.

This writing strategy should also be used in other forms of written communication from your organization. From your direct mail fundraising to your donor acknowledgment letters, you should always be focused on making your donors feel important.

Make sure direct mail letters are skimmable.

4. Make Sure Direct Mail Letters Are Skimmable

While it's nice to sit down and relax with a good novel on your own time, that's not how you want your donors to feel when they open up your direct mail.

It should only take a matter of minutes from the time that your supporter opens your letter until the time they are finished reading. Direct mail letters that are long or difficult to read are likely to lose attention more quickly.

Therefore, while you are writing, make a conscious effort to use:

  • Simple sentences.
  • Uncomplicated word choices.
  • Direct call-to-actions.

Simple sentences may sound choppy to the writer, however, when someone is skimming content, shorter sentences like this get the point across much easier. Compound and complex sentences require readers (no matter their reading level) to slow down in order to understand. To keep the message brief for both writer and reader, try to keep sentences short, sweet, and to the point as much as possible.

Descriptors are a key story-telling technique, so we are not saying that you should limit your word choice to take away your creative edge. However, it is possible to use uncomplicated word choices while still adequately telling your story. Try to keep the reading level of your direct mail around an 8th grade reading level so that donors don't trip over words.

A good call-to-action tells the reader exactly what you want from them. Make sure your supporter knows that you are asking for a donation and how much you are asking for by the time they finish skimming your letter. Direct language will help clarify your reason for writing to the supporter and ensure they know what the next step is for the donation process.

Salsa's word processor makes direct mail fundraising easy with saved templates.

Salsa's word processor makes it easy to create templates that include each of these elements. Then, these templates can be adjusted based on the recipients and specific needs of your organization. 

Remember to use important direct mail fundraising keywords.

5. Use Important Direct Mail Fundraising Keywords

In most fundraising efforts, you'll find that there are particular keywords or phrases that are most effective in grabbing the attention of your supporters. These words are the ones that will establish credibility to your organization and signal potential benefits for the donors themselves.

There are a particular set of keywords used in effective direct mail fundraising that will help your fundraising efforts skyrocket. Some of these words include:

  • The donor's name. Choose a system of direct mail fundraising where you can auto-populate a supporter's name in a direct mail fundraising template. Addressing the supporter by name captures their attention right off the bat.
  • Tax-deductible. The term "tax-deductible" explains the benefit that your supporters will receive when they give to your organization. Not only will they feel good about helping others, but they'll also receive a tax write-off!
  • You. As we discussed in section 3, "you-attitude" will help you to connect with your donors and put the donation in perspective for them rather than for your organization. It makes them feel more connected and willing to give.
  • Give. Many organizations make the mistake of using the word "support" in their fundraising letters. Instead of calling someone to action by asking for their support, be direct in asking them to "give" or to "donate." This clarifies your reason for writing.

Put yourself in the shoes of the supporter and think about what interests them. Consider the words that you would want to hear from someone to motivate you to give. Then, make a list of these words and use them in your letter template.

Consider outsourcing your direct mail fundraising efforts.

6. Outsource Your Direct Mail Fundraising Efforts

If you’re looking to make the most of your direct mail fundraising efforts, working with a nonprofit-specific direct mail platform is the solution you need. More than likely, your fundraising team is not made up of direct mail experts—but a direct mail fundraising company is!

Consider the following benefits of outsourcing your direct mail fundraising efforts:

  • Professional quality: High-quality appeals are more likely to be taken seriously by recipients. When you work with a direct mail platform, you can ensure that your mailings are well-crafted to grab the attention of your supporters in their mailboxes.
  • Minimal costs: Direct mail has certain costs associated with it: paper, ink, envelopes, stamps, and more. With the right provider, however, you can even save money on your mailings that you would have spent on materials on your own.
  • Reallocated time: Envelopes don’t stuff themselves, and sometimes your team simply doesn’t have the capacity to fill, address, and send each fundraising letter. By outsourcing the process to a professional firm, you save your fundraising team time that can be reallocated to other critical tasks.

The key is choosing the best direct mail platform for the job. When you work with a nonprofit-centric firm like GivingMail, they can leverage key insights from both their direct mail and fundraising experience to maximize the impact of your upcoming campaign.

Make sure to track the success of your direct mail fundraising and see how well it plays into your revenue goals through a donation performance dashboard or comprehensive reporting. Check out this video to see how Salsa CRM's performance dashboard provides a great overlook to your fundraising strategy.  



Direct mail is not out-of-date just yet! Be sure to use these tips and combine your fundraising strategies for an omni-channel approach to fundraising. 

If you want to unlock more supporter management and fundraising tips, check out these additional resources:

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