Learn more about powerful direct mail appeals for nonprofits with this guide.

Direct Mail Appeals for Nonprofits: 5 Best Practices

Fundraising for any nonprofit organization can be daunting. There are various ways in which an organization can go about asking donors for money. However, there is one fundraising channel that has proven to be successful time and time again in terms of engaging donors: direct mail. 

As a marketing tool, direct mail can be more appealing due to its physical format and personalized content. If you or your nonprofit organization have decided to use direct mail to reach donors, you’ve made a smart choice. However, fine-tuning the structure and content of a fundraising letter can be complex and tedious. Here are five best practices that will make your direct mail development manageable while also improving its quality:

1. Customize your fundraising letter templates.

When launching your direct mail campaign, you want to make sure that your fundraising letter is impactful, appealing, and organized. One of the most important aspects of writing a great fundraising letter is choosing and customizing the right template. Most fundraising letter templates include some variation of these six pieces:

  1. Salutation
  2. Opening
  3. Cause
  4. Anecdote
  5. Image
  6. Call to action

When choosing the right template for your appeal, make sure that it represents what you want to highlight for your fundraising. For example, perhaps you’ve already sent out your initial fundraising letter and you wish to follow up with a matching gift request. In that case, use an acknowledgment letter that thanks the donor for their contributions and encourages them to research their matching gift eligibility through their employer. 

The fundraising template you use sets the tone for how you promote your cause. Your fundraising letter, in a sense, is an extension of the brand image that you wish to create for your nonprofit. Regardless of what that image looks like, your template should allow your letter to be concise, easy to read, and attention-grabbing. After all, you want your donor to acknowledge the letter as an exciting opportunity rather than just another piece of snail mail. 

For example, you could include an important statistic relating to your mission or add a quote or slogan that summarizes your cause. Organizing your template ultimately makes it easier to communicate your message and get the response you’re looking for.

2. Include a section about matching gifts.

Matching gifts are essential for maximizing your nonprofit donations. This type of corporate philanthropy consists of donations made by a donor’s employer in response to a gift made by the employee. This is a fantastic way to double (or even triple!) your existing donations, but it’s often overlooked by donors and nonprofits alike. 

Therefore, it’s a good idea to educate your supporters about the prevalence and power of matching gift programs. Usually, you’ll ask them to contact their employer for eligibility and any necessary forms to fulfill the gift request (as each corporation has its own set of matching gift guidelines). However, matching gift software can simplify this process by easily providing donors with information about their employer’s giving programs.

Overall, matching gifts have several benefits for nonprofits, corporations, and donors alike. For the donors, matching gifts come at no additional cost but allow them to see the impact of their donation go twice as far. In addition, the company can get recognition for corporate social responsibility, which improves its reputation and provides them with tax cuts. 

Finally, for nonprofits, matching gifts can increase revenue while also aiding them in segmenting their donor database. By connecting donors to certain companies, nonprofits can obtain valuable insights on how to further customize and curate content for their audience. Make sure you send out your matching gift appeals for these reasons and more.

3. Strategically curate your greeting and P.S.

Curating content is important—especially when the end of the year approaches. It allows you to personalize the direct mail content for your donor. The more you personalize a direct mail letter, the more you motivate your donor in supporting the cause. 

Personalization means not only explaining how the cause is relevant to the reader but also using language and terminology that resonates with them. There are few better opportunities when it comes to personalizing your content than the greeting and P.S. 

When drafting your direct mail appeals, it’s important to recognize that your recipients are likely going to skim the text. And when readers scan a letter, studies show that they typically jump straight to the P.S. after the opening.

Therefore, when writing your greeting and P.S., be sure to effectively communicate the feeling you want to create in your donor. If you want your donor to feel close to your nonprofit, you may adopt an informal and casual tone in your greeting and P.S. Perhaps you want them to read the letter as if they were receiving it from a close friend. You can then conclude your P.S. with a joke that will make them smile. 

This section can also include additional information that can get the donor more involved in the cause. It can be a minor suggestion based on the specific donor, or it can be a reference to a website/organizational resource. In short, the greeting and P.S. are the main components of the letter that donors remember; that’s why it has been used in sales-boosting for so long. Ask yourself what impact you want to have on the donor, and make your opening and closing statements reflect that.

4. Wrap up with a clear and concise CTA.

Once you have explained your cause and its current state, you must bring your letter to a close with a strong call to action (or CTA). The CTA is the most important part of your direct mail when it comes to asking for donations

This is where you highlight the exact purpose and importance of your donor’s contribution to the cause. Here you must be specific with what action you demand from your donor. You’ve already detailed the broader scope of your organization’s efforts, and now it’s time to hone it down to one ask. It can be for monetary gifts, volunteer time, matching gift requests, or even event sign-ups. 

Whatever your ask is, just make sure that you tie it back to that larger purpose. State why your intended action is necessary to push the cause forward. For example, you can write, “with your donation of $100 dollars, you can feed a struggling family of four for a month. ” This puts a tangible incentive along with your donation request to make the reader more likely to form an emotional connection.

The CTA can and should be used repeatedly throughout the body of your fundraising letter to improve results. The effectiveness of your CTA depends on how well you get your point across and its sense of urgency. You should make the donor feel like they are an extension of the organization. In other words, they must take action because any choice they make can have a large impact on the cause—and the good of the constituents depends on them. 

5. Work with a dedicated direct mail fundraising platform.

Now that you understand the importance of an effective direct mail fundraising strategy, you must find the proper platform to meet your needs. Specifically, you’ll want to look for a platform that provides the tools and accessibility you need to craft your letter and maximize your ROI. 

When finding a direct mail platform, you will notice how there are several companies that specialize in nonprofit direct mail, each having its own set of pros and cons in their services. Here are some of the features and considerations you may want to look out for:

  • Low costs: Using direct mail can come with hefty start-up costs. As a nonprofit organization, you want to minimize the amount of spending on utilities and resources in order to maximize your investment in the cause. With the right direct mail fundraising platform, you can actually save money by paying less than you would on envelopes, ink, and stamps.
  • Experience and reputation: An experienced partner is necessary for any nonprofit using direct mail, but especially for smaller organizations that might not have a ton of history in the fundraising space. If funding is low, you’ll need a partner who can guide you in utilizing the right tools to market your organization effectively.
  • Tools and resources: Try to find a partner who’s direct mail platform has the right services for your organization. For example, let’s say your nonprofit is looking to increase your matching gift revenue. A company such as 360MatchPro may be a good fit for you since the platform is dedicated to automating the matching gift outreach process and maximizing your corporate dollars. However, if you’re looking for a more generalized direct mail platform, you might want to take a look at GivingMail’s services.

When you find the right fundraising partner for your organization, you lay the groundwork for strategic direct mail marketing success. Plus, you can save time, money, and effort that can then be reinvested into your mission. It’s a win-win!

All in all, direct mail fundraising appeals have significant potential to raise unlimited dollars for mission-driven organizations like yours. When you use customizable templates, promote matching gifts, include strategically crafted greetings, P.S., and calls to action, and find the right fundraising partner, you’re sure to see revenue flying in in no time. Good luck!

This guest post was contributed by Grant Cobb of GivingMail.

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.