Although direct mail for nonprofits can be challenging, it remains to be an extremely cost-effective channel. Plus, it's a great way to stay top of mind with donors.
In our many years of working with these organizations at Design Distributors, we’ve noticed a few key strategies used in successful campaigns that get the highest responses, and we want to share them with you.
Here are 10 best practices you can follow today to help improve your results:
1. Mail Your House List
Every nonprofit should mail their house file regularly, from multi-million dollar organizations to local startup charities. Direct mail is one of the best ways to stand out because It’s harder for people to ignore something they can touch and feel, compared to digital advertising like emails or Google Ads.
At a bare minimum, mail your house list once a month, but don’t be afraid to try as many as three or four times and monitor closely to determine the correct number of touch points. Use each campaign as an opportunity to send more information and stay top of mind with newsletters, postcards, or interesting facts.
Renewal mailings are very productive and result in a significant boost to donations.
Besides your regular campaigns, send a note whenever members renew for another year. Thank them for their support and customize the message with relevant details like how much they’ve donated or how long they’ve been a member; explain the impact they’ve had. Renewal mailings are very productive and result in a significant boost to donations.
2. Mail Lapsed Donors
Donors may have stopped giving, but you know they cared about your cause at one point, and it’s likely that they still do. This makes them some of your best prospects, so mail them regularly. Thank your lapsed donors for their historical support of your organization.
3. Mail Prospects
Mailing cold prospects can be expensive, but it’s absolutely crucial to your organization’s success because it helps provide a steady flow of new donors. For these kinds of campaigns, your goal should be to break even on the cost of the mailing, though it’s common to lose as much as a third of your investment in the short term. The key is to move anyone who responds to your house list, where they’ll continue to give, and help you recoup your investment many times over.
4. Mail House & Prospects Lists At The Same Time
It’s a best practice to send prospecting and house-list campaigns at the same time, as the house list returns will help balance out the costs of prospecting.
For example, you may lose $20,000 on the prospecting campaign, but get a net $60,000 return from the house list, which makes your overall return a positive $40,000. You’ll also get a better deal when printing and mailing both at once, as you’ll have more total volume. Mailing larger volumes can also reduce your per piece postage cost as your concentration increases.
5. Use Targeted Mailing Lists
When prospecting, it’s important to send to people who are warm to your cause. The easiest way to find these names is to use a list of donors from organizations that are similar to yours. For example, if your organization raises funds to fight childhood cancer, you could send to prospects who have donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Once the most closely associated lists are exhausted, you can focus on less similar organizations. Instead of “childhood cancer” for example, you could focus on prospects who are interested in childhood- or cancer-related charities, but not both. The more relevant your connection with the prospect, the more returns you’ll see from each campaign.
You can find these types of mailing lists through list brokers, many of which focus specifically on nonprofits. Experienced printers (like us here at Design Distributors) will have connections to these types of sources, so make sure to bring it up when you ask for a quote.
6. Personalize The Mail
Personalizing each piece of mail for a specific recipient helps improve response rates no matter what kind of campaign you’re sending. This is especially true for nonprofits that rely on emotional connection to get donations.
The more data you have on a recipient, the more you can customize the mail they receive. For this reason, it’s typically easier to use house lists that have months—or even years—of information to draw from.
If you do personalize mail for rented prospect lists, you have to be creative with the data you have available.
Traditionally, personalization has not been used on prospecting campaigns to reduce cost and minimize loss, but modern technology like the HP-T240 has driven prices down, so it can be used in almost any campaign. Just discuss your options with your printer.
If you do personalize mail for rented prospect lists, you have to be creative with the data you have available. For example, you could change a background picture to show a child or woman, depending on whether someone donated to St. Jude’s, or the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, respectively. You can also customize based on known variables such as geography, or other relevant data points. This can help improve response rates and is becoming increasingly popular with charities of all sizes.
7. Tell A Story
Tell a story with your direct mail, whether it’s about a person you’ve helped, an interesting project, or your organization’s origin story. The goal of the story is to make the recipient feel the pain you’re working to eliminate, and then show them how they can help stop that feeling by taking action.
You don’t have to write a long-form letter for every message to communicate a feeling. Stories work with a few words, a picture, and a call-to-action; every message can build a narrative and help provide context to your cause. Over time, you’ll build a clear, comprehensive vision in your donor’s head of the results you—and they—can provide, which helps improve donations and build a connection.
8. Keep It Concise
Make sure to keep your writing and story concise. The perfect length depends on the mail you’re using, as “concise” means something different for a postcard and a newsletter.
Use the minimum number of words possible to convey your message, and make the mail skimmable. Not everyone will take the time to fully read every sentence, but you still want them to get your message, so include bullets or bold headlines that provide an overview of the entire piece. Finish with a direct call to action (CTA) to make the path forward clear and eliminate any confusion that might act as a reason not to give.
9. Make Replying Easy
It’s important to include an easy reply method in every campaign. Hopefully you’ve put thought and effort into creating an appealing message and building a sense of connection, so don’t waste the opportunity by making it hard to donate.
It’s all about providing as many opportunities to donate as possible so giving is easy.
The perfect CTA for your situation, again, depends on the type of mail you’re using, but it’s a best practice to include both online and physical response methods. It’s all about providing as many opportunities to donate as possible so giving is easy.
For example, if you’re sending a newsletter in a letter package, you could include a return envelope, and a short URL to visit online. On the other hand, a postcard doesn’t have space for an envelope, so you’re limited to asking for a digital response or a phone call. In this case, you could still experiment by using a QR code (a printed graphic that you can easily scan with a smartphone) and URL and measuring which provides the best returns.
10. Measure & Test
Direct mail can bring results quickly, but you’ll get the best return on your investment when it’s used as part of a long-term marketing strategy. The key to improving results over time includes trying new things, experimenting, and measuring your results to see what’s working and what’s not.
Use trackable URLs, phone numbers, or codes to measure response, and evaluate your performance after every campaign. Test everything, from frequency, to creative, to your offer, and types of mail. A quality printing and mailing shop can help you set up measurement tools if you don’t know how.
If you follow these 10 steps, you’re sure to see an improvement in response rates for your organization. If you’d like help in printing and setting up your next campaign, contact us. We’ve worked with dozens of nonprofits and can help you reach your donation goals.