Nonprofit Strategies

5 tips for more effective direct mail campaigns

Special to The TribuneJuly 24, 2013 

Barry VanderKelen

Direct mail — an important component of fundraising — must be continually refined to increase its effectiveness.

I spoke with Paige Chamberlain, who has more than 25 years of experience with printing and mailing in San Luis Obispo County. She works at Central Coast Printing of Grover Beach and has helped numerous nonprofits with their direct mail campaigns.

Here are Chamberlain’s five tips for improving direct mail:

1. Know your budget, and treat the printer as a partner. The printer can help you craft a package that will get opened and read and stay within your budget.

2. Know your mailing list. Names and addresses have been entered into your database by different people over the years. Review your list and complete addresses when possible. Eliminate duplications, and run it through a National Change of Address update. Cleaning up your list will help eliminate wasted printing and postage expenses.

3. Think about your list differently. Rather than accumulate as many names as possible and hope for the best, run your list through a data profiling program. Data profiling reviews your donors and produces a model of your ideal prospect. You can tailor your message to the model. If you buy a list of names that fits your model, you might acquire new donors more effectively.

4. Be aware of timing. Plan ahead to make sure your mailing can get out on time. Think carefully about how to make your letter stand out from all the other mail a prospect is receiving, especially if you’re mailing during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

5. Track your results. What letter produced the best results? Did you notice any issues with the piece that could be improved next time?

Finding ways to increase results and reduce costs is important. These five tips will help improve your direct mail effectiveness.

Barry VanderKelen is executive director of The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County. Reach him at

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