Direct Mail Fundraising Can Help You Go Surround Sound
by Mike Montalto
January 21, 2021

Is direct mail fundraising dead? Of course not!

Yes, digital strategies often dominate the conversation. And this was true even before the coronavirus pandemic. It’s no wonder digital strategies are at the forefront, considering the huge role emails, text messages, and social media play in today’s virtual world.

It wasn’t too long ago that nonprofit communications were solely focused on direct mail. But today, using cross-channel communications is the best way for fundraisers to get their message heard.

So, direct mail still should still be an important part of your fundraising strategy.

According to the DMA’s Response Rate Report, direct mail has a 37 percent higher response rate than email!

But to truly go surround sound, we need to look at direct mail fundraising differently. Your direct mail appeals do not stand alone. They should work with your other communications to share a cohesive message across multiple channels.

What does it look like? Here’s how we helped the AIChE Foundation amplify their message with the surround sound approach.

Like milk and cookies.

Direct mail and digital strategies are better when they go together. Just like milk and cookies or popcorn and a movie!

In fact, campaigns that used direct mail and at least one digital communication had a 118 percent higher response rate compared to using direct mail only, according to Nonprofits Source.

An effective approach will use digital communications and direct mail fundraising that work together to stand out and inspire donors to give.

READ MORE: How to Rise Above the Noise

Donors are three times more likely to give online in response to direct mail than an email.

Can direct mail drive online giving? 

Would you be shocked to learn that direct mail is one of the biggest drivers of online giving? Well, it’s true!

In fact, donors are three times more likely to give online in response to a direct mail appeal than an email, according to MobileCause.

Our friends in the marketing world will tell you that it can take up to eight touches before converting a new prospect. This also holds true in the nonprofit sector. So, it might take a few tries before you move that prospect to the donor category.

Today, people are busier than ever. And if someone intended to donate after receiving your email, there’s a chance they just forgot to go back and finish making the gift!

Direct mail fundraising is a great way to remind those donors who intended to give but got sidetracked.

Your appeal letter serves as a physical reminder. A donor can open your appeal package, go to work, come home, and it will still be waiting for them on the kitchen table.

After they eat dinner, it’s still there. And now they have time to go online and make the donation. So, make sure the URL of your donation page can easily be found in your appeal package!

The reverse is true as well. Email can be a great follow-up to a direct mail piece. It isn’t one or the other – it’s both!

READ MORE: Securing Support Through Your Online Donation Page

Parts of a whole.

When you launch a campaign that leverages direct mail fundraising with digital strategies, it should be clear your cross-channel communications are part of the same initiative. This gives donors a more complete and connected experience.

And that’s what we mean by surround sound! Communications across different mediums should work together to reach donors with a compelling and consistent message.

So, make it clear your appeal package and email are part of the same campaign by using a similar design and other visual elements. When a donor opens your appeal letter and sees the same picture featured in your email, they will connect the dots!

Also, make sure the fonts, logos, images, and design themes in your appeal letters remind donors of digital messages in the campaign.

And don’t forget to keep the tone of your message and the stories you tell consistent as well!

You can give your stories more depth by building on them throughout the communications cycle. For example, your initial email can tell the beginning of the story of someone in need and explain how your organization wants to help.

Your next few touches can use email or social media to continue building the story. And remember to explain how donations are making an impact as the story unfolds!

Then, after you hit your goal, you can share the story’s happy ending in thank you letters and emails.

READ MORE: How to Use Social Media to Strengthen Your Appeals

Is your data up to date? 11% of Americans change their mailing address each year.

Do you have dirty data?

Using direct mail fundraising in tandem with digital outreach strategies gives you the opportunity to take personalization to the next level. Just some words from experience: make sure you have a clean data base to launch such an in-depth campaign. Otherwise, build gradually.

After all, if some of your information is out of date, your donors may not see every part of your message!

So, make sure you have a donor’s correct email address and current mailing address in your records.

Did you know, according to MobileCause, 11 percent of Americans change their mailing address each year? If you haven’t been practicing good data hygiene, you won’t be able to count on using your direct mail fundraising to drive donations!

READ MORE: The Building Blocks of Engaging Fundraising Communications 

“I have my own donation page?!?”

Once your data is in order, you can think about ways to apply the personalized approach across all channels in your campaign. Of course, you will want to address donors directly by name in your email subject line and on the outer envelope of your appeal letter.

But cross-channel communications allow you to go even further by using personalized URLs, or PURLs, to direct donors to personalized campaign pages.

Instead of asking donors to go online to, you can present them with a PURL featuring their name, like 

PURLs bring each recipient to a website that feels as special and relevant as your other personalized communications!

When they land on the page, you can greet them by name and refer to specific programs they’ve supported in the past.

This extends the personalized experience through the entire donation process. It also shows your organization values your donors as individuals. It makes it clear you know who your donors are and that you care about more than the money they can give.

PURLs can be a huge benefit to your organization. They’re an easy way to track exactly how much of your online fundraising is driven by your direct mail efforts. And you will get a better feel for which donors prefer giving in response to your direct mail pieces and which can be moved to a more digital-first approach.

READ MORE: Take Your Personalization to the Next Level with PURLs

Don’t just take our word for it.

The numbers don’t lie.

The average response rate for nonprofits is just 6 percent when using direct mail only, but shoots up to 37 percent when using web, email, and direct mail together, according to MobileCause.

And keep in mind, people who received some email communication during the year, but only donate by check, gave 90 percent more than those who didn’t receive any emails, according to the research lab NextAfter.

So, what does this mean?

You’re going to have a hard time getting a response if you’re relying solely on emails to drive your fundraising efforts!

Direct mail ensures that more of your donor base will take the time to absorb your message. According to the DMA report referenced earlier, 42.2 percent of direct mail recipients either read or scan the mail they receive.

Compare this to 17 percent average open rate of nonprofit emails, according to the 2020 M+R Benchmarks Report.

But as we mentioned earlier, direct mail fundraising works best when augmented by a digital communications strategy!

You may be able to cut down on print and mailing costs by sending less direct mail to a more targeted audience. But you shouldn’t cut direct mail from your fundraising strategy all together!

Our world becomes more digital every day. But direct mail fundraising is here to stay.

Like what you see? Stay in touch!