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Nonprofit Direct Mail: Dinosaur or Dynamite?

Wondering if direct mail can help your nonprofit raise more money? Here's what we tell our clients.

Nonprofit Direct Mail: Dinosaur or Dynamite?

“Direct mail is so yesterday.” When considering how to reach your nonprofit fundraising goals, has this thought crossed your mind?

You wouldn’t be the first to quickly discount the good old USPS. Think about it: is it worth the costs of printing and stamps, just to have your letter tossed in the trash with the rest of the junk mail?

It sure is. Direct mail response rates hover between 5% and 9%. In contrast, email response rates are around 0.1%. That is a substantial difference that more than makes up for the cost of a stamp. 

On average, a person receives more than 100 emails a day. But they receive an average of about two pieces of regular mail, and people hold on to mail a lot longer than they look at an email.

According to the United States Postal Service, 88% of millennials look through their physical mail. Across all age groups, physical ads are more effective at leaving a lasting impression than digital ads, and everyone spends more time on physical content than digital. 

So it’s not looking like direct mail is a dinosaur.

Savvy nonprofits have a robust direct mail program and use it more often than any other outreach method. Because there is a cost involved—designing the piece, printing it, mailing it—there tends to be more strategy behind direct mail than email. It’s rare to find a typo on a mailed piece, and you never have to worry about broken links! 

Why Does Direct Mail Work?

We said you wouldn’t be the first person to discount direct mail. In fact, you would have a lot of company. That means that direct mail isn’t as common an outreach method as others, and you won’t have a lot of competition. It’s certainly easier to have your direct mail piece stand out than your email.

Personalizing direct mail and creating a piece your donors will remember is easy. Get creative and use colors, fonts, and design elements to make sure your card or letter catches the eye of the recipient.

Think about how quickly you delete emails that you view as spam. Then picture yourself walking to your mailbox and flipping through your mail. At the very least, you’ll glance at the contents of the mail before designating it as trash.

Because it’s considered to be slightly more old school, direct mail is also considered to be more trustworthy. This makes it an effective outreach tool for smaller nonprofits that might not yet be household names.

How to Create a Great Piece of Direct Mail

If you have a fantastic logo, this is a prime place to showcase it! If you have the most boring logo on the planet, redesign it—or just use color on the rest of the card or letter. But don’t make it so busy that it’s hard to know where to look.

Personalize your mail and reference previous engagements. This can be, “Hi, Dave, and thanks for your recent gift of $10. You helped clean up the park down the street!” It could also be, “Hello, Caroline, and thank you so much for volunteering to pick up trash at the park last weekend.” Let your donors know they’re seen and appreciated.

Have a clear call to action. Our mantra is that nonprofits have to make it easy to give, and direct mail must adhere to that as well. The best direct mail pieces (touch #1) send people to your website (touch #2) and a donation form (touch #3). Use a QR code on your card or come up with a memorable URL for your donation page. This guide to integrating direct mail with online fundraising offers actionable tips and solid advice.

Include something of value. It can be a bookmark, a magnet, or even a code they can enter on your website (two touches!) if they want a t-shirt. You might often see branded calendars sent to donors in December; people usually keep these for several months, if not a year. You can also promise that donors who give a certain amount will be mailed a gift and have something branded for this purpose. It can be pens, pads, water bottles, or almost anything you could mail inexpensively. 

Consider making it a regular communication. What about a quarterly newsletter through which you share your successes and spotlight important facts about your nonprofit’s impact? You can use photos and case studies of donations and volunteer acts that make a difference. If you have a good nonprofit CRM, you’ll know special dates like birthdays or anniversaries. These could be commemorated with a card.

Direct Mail is Dynamite

Direct mail is the workhorse of a successful nonprofit. It’s personal, memorable, and offers impressive response rates.

And the more harried our lives become, the more enticing it is to slow down, open a mailbox, and page through the mail. More than 40% of Americans say they enjoy checking their mail every day, which leaves nonprofits with a happy and receptive audience!

When you pair direct mail with your CRM, you have insights into your donors and it will be easier to personalize your outreach.

The next time you’re planning a fundraising campaign or thinking about your fundraising strategy, give direct mail a chance. You might be surprised at your success!