Good and Bad ways to Raise Non-Profit Donations through Direct Mail

Think about the last donation you made to a charity or organization. Now think about why you donated to that particular group. Did you want to help solve huge problems, like cancer or illiteracy? Did you want to follow the example of a philanthropic person? Did you just want the free gift the organization offered?

Whatever your personal reasons for donating, you might be surprised that research strongly supports only one of the fundraising motivators above. Which one leads to the most dollars raised? The influence of others. People donate more when they see someone else give at the same time, particularly when a famous person matches their donation dollar for dollar.

If you’re considering a direct mail campaign for your nonprofit group, don’t rely on fundraising techniques you assume are tried and true. They may not give you the return on investment you expect. Instead, consult our list of the best and worst ways to raise money through direct mail. Design your mailers with these strategies to set your campaign up for success.

Good Direct Mail Fundraising Strategies

Economists and social scientists have conducted numerous studies regarding which direct mail communications earn the most donations. Here are three of the most intriguing and proven tactics.

  1. Give Potential Donors the Opt-Out Option

Professor John List of the University of Chicago built his career around studying “the economics of charity.” One finding from his research recommends a technique that seems to go against logic: Requests for donations should give people a chance to opt out of future requests. Essentially, the organization promises only to bother people once as long as those individuals donate this one time.

That option appeals to people who receive numerous mail requests for donations every week. They tend to give more in that donation drive than they would if the campaign didn’t have the opt-out option.

But even better, research shows people who donate that first time actually keep on donating. They don’t check the box that says “Don’t bother me again.” Instead, they become repeat donors.

  1. Send a Personal Thank You

Once you have donors, you want to keep them interested in your organization or charity. So let them know you appreciate their gift. Say thank you the old-fashioned way-send a personalized thank you note. A poll conducted by Urban Institute found that nearly half of donors prefer a mailed thank you note over phone calls, emails, or social media posts.

To make your notes feel truly personal, have thank you cards printed with your nonprofit’s logo. Ask your printer about options for adding names somewhere on the card so you can avoid impersonal greetings like “Dear Donor.” And if you want to avoid the mass-mail look, put actual stamps on each letter rather than paying for more efficient metered mail.

  1. Show Donors How Their Gift Affected Lives

Another way to promote repeat donations is to share the personal impact your organization has on individual lives. The Urban Institute poll found that 60% of donors prefer success stories to other types of updates.

Personal stories let you show the success of your nonprofit in a memorable way. Talk about one patient who lived longer because of your donor- funded research. Share pictures of a student who found professional success thanks to an alumni-funded scholarship. Your donors will remember the faces of people they helped more than statistics about how many dollars were raised and how they were spent.

Bad Direct Mail Fundraising Strategies

Research on fundraising techniques has also revealed a few strategies that are less successful. Avoid the tactics below to ensure your direct mail campaign earns money and stays effective long-term.

  1. Spend Funds on Gifts to Donors

Numerous charities and nonprofits offer their donors gifts if they donate a certain amount. For example, the giver might be promised a branded windbreaker if he or she contributes $50. But gifts cost money to buy and send, so you shouldn’t offer them unless they’ll increase the amount of donations you receive.

Surprisingly, research published in the Journal of Economic Psychology shows donor gifts doesn’t increase donations; they actually reduce them. Why does a gift reduce the motivation to donate? A gift makes the donation less charitable. When people donate money, they want the good feelings that come with it more than the free hoodie.

  1. Ask for More Donations Right Away

Once your nonprofit receives a donation from a first-time donor, it’s easy to assume you should ask that person for another donation as soon as possible. But this “strike while the iron is hot” technique doesn’t build good relationships with your organization and your donors.

The Urban Institute poll mentioned above also asked how long organizations should wait before asking for another donation. The top answer was 7 to 12 months; 35% of respondents felt that was an appropriate waiting period. The second most popular answer, selected by 28% of respondents, was over a year. Give your donors time between donation requests so they don’t feel pestered.

Direct mail fundraising campaigns are not dead in the age of online crowd funding and social media. Use the tips above so you can successfully petition potential donors to support your cause. Ask printing professionals to design beautiful materials for your organization and start your direct mail campaign today.

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