Nonprofits shouldn't abandon direct mail for fundraising

Special to The TribuneFebruary 13, 2013 

Barry VanderKelen

Direct-mail fundraising generates approximately one-fifth of all donations to nonprofit organizations. If done right, it is an effective and relatively inexpensive way to raise money. Direct mail will continue to generate donations even with the U.S. Postal Service ending Saturday home delivery later this year.

Online fundraising is growing rapidly, but 79 percent of all donations are still made by paper check. Even though the ability to target potential donors online is getting better, direct mail still produces stronger results.

An effective letter presents the mission of the organization through a compelling story. The story should take two to three paragraphs to tell. It must be a story of how the organization is making a difference in the lives of people. In addition, the letter must include a general update of the organization. It’s OK that the letter be two to four pages long.

Rather than write a letter that speaks to everyone, which will weaken the content, try to focus on your target audience. One way to do this is to write a few brief profiles of who you are trying to reach. What is their age? How do they earn money? How do they spend their spare time? What other organizations do they support? This exercise will help identify the values they share with your organization. These values will help you focus the contents of your letter.

Having board members, staff and volunteers add a personal note will deepen the connection between the prospective donor and the organization.

It doesn’t take many positive responses to recover the cost of the mailing. For example, use a bulk mail permit to reduce postage costs to as low as 11.5 cents. Using a first-class stamp may reinforce the personalized approach and produce larger gifts.

Direct mail is an important tool for fundraising. Investing time in sharpening it will generate donations.

Barry VanderKelen's Nonprofit Strategies column is special to The Tribune. He is executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation. Reach him at barry@sloccf.org.

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