Why Direct Mail Fundraising is Essential in the Digital Age
by Mike Montalto
February 13, 2020

Is direct mail fundraising dead? Of course not!

Yes, digital strategies often dominate the conversation when fundraisers talk about the latest approaches to nonprofit communications. And this isn’t surprising, considering the huge role emails, text messages, and social media play in the way we engage with one another today.

But it wasn’t too long ago that nonprofit communications were dependent on direct mail. And while today’s fundraisers can use cross-channel communications to get their message heard, direct mail still plays a crucial role

For example, did you know that according to the DMA’s Response Rate Report, direct mail has a 37 percent higher response rate than email?

But to do it right, we need to look at direct mail fundraising differently. It can’t ignore the existence of all the ways fundraisers can reach out digitally!

Fundraisers see the best results when their direct mail and digital strategies work together.

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

Today’s fundraisers need to use cross-channel communications to make their message stand out. But your channels can’t work independently. A modern, effective approach will use digital communications and direct mail fundraising that work together to stand out and inspire donors to give.

Direct Mail Drives 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. It’s rare that a potential donor will make a gift the first, second, or even third time you reach out.

Today, people are busier than ever. And even if someone intended to donate in response to your email, there’s a good 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. Unlike an email, your direct mail 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!

Two Parts of a Whole

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

Make it clear your appeal package and email are part of the same campaign by using a similar design and other visual elements in your cross-channel communications. When a donor opens your appeal letter and sees the same picture featured in your email, they will be able to connect the dots.

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

And don’t forget to keep the way you talk about the campaign, 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 continue to build on the story. Remember to explain how donations are making an impact.

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

Is Your Data up to Date?

Using direct mail fundraising in tandem with digital outreach strategies gives you the opportunity to take personalization to the next level. However, you must first make sure you have all the data you need to launch such an in-depth campaign.

First, make sure your donor data base is up to date. Obviously, you will need to make sure you have a donor’s correct email address and that the mailing address you have in your records is current.

But did you know, according to MobileCause, 14 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.

Getting Personal with PURLs

Once your data is in order, you can think about ways to apply the personalized approach to 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 their own personalized campaign pages.

Instead of asking donors to go online to https://mynonprofit.org/give, you can present them with a PURL featuring their name, like https://support.mynonprofit.org/JaneSmith. 

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, refer to specific programs they’ve supported, and provide an overview of their giving history.

This extends the personalized experience through the entire donation process and 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 are also 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. This can otherwise be a very difficult statistic to track accurately, especially if you’re not a master at Google Analytics!

The Numbers Don’t Lie

According to MobileCause, 35 percent of donors say they prefer to respond to direct mail by giving online or via mobile devices.

And keep in mind, people who received some email communication throughout the year, but still only sent in checks when it was time to give, donated 90 percent more than those who didn’t receive any emails according to the research lab NextAfter.

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

But 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 15 percent average open rate of nonprofit emails, according to the 2018 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 direct mail to donors who are most likely to respond. But you definitely don’t want to cut direct mail from your fundraising strategy all together.

Though our world becomes more digital every day, direct mail fundraising is here to stay.

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