Guest post by Joel Barker, Backpack Tactics


With so much focus going toward social media and online communication, are you giving your direct mail campaigns enough attention? If you’re not, you could be missing a big opportunity.

Direct mail campaigns are still an important part of a comprehensive fundraising development strategy. In order to keep your direct mail donors engaged, you need to spark their interest level.

Five suggestions to consider while planning your fall or year end direct mail appeal

Make it about your donors

Your donors support you because of the great work you do. They give because they want to be part of that work. Highlight them and how they can make a difference. Be specific about how helpful their gifts have been and why giving now is important.

Keep it to one page!

Use discipline to keep your appeal to one page. Even if you have a lot to tell your donors or have multiple programs operated through your nonprofit. Donors know who you are, this letter is to ask them for support. Keep it interesting, important, yet brief – almost as a teaser. Send them to your website to read more.

For something fun, record a video message online (they’re easy to make, I promise!) and in your letter invite donors to watch it and submit comments. Now you’ve engaged your donors and are able to give them more information than can fit in a one page letter. Make sure your “donate now” button hovers next to your online message.

Try something new

Have you done the same ask on letterhead for the past 10 years (or more)? Why not try something new this year? Even a different format for the letter can create interest or draw people in.

I recently worked with a nonprofit client to launch a direct mail campaign. They sent a traditional ask letter (1 page with a picture.) Enclosed with the letter they also included a green page card stock sheet personally inviting the donor for a tour. The ? sheet also repeated the bolded ask sentences from the letter, but invited the donor to bring their donation with them when they visit for a tour.

The tour had moderate success, 14 out of 1,300 people have toured (so far). Out of the 14, six of them made a gift increase over the previous year. However, the real success has been the 8% increase in overall gifts (excluding the increased gifts from the 14 who toured) including gifts from 22 lapsed donors.

By focusing on the ask in the letter and offering a tour – with direct reference to the ask in the letter – the organization further engaged their donors and opened the door to multiple giving methods in one letter. All without softening the ask.

Use the tools in your database

Segmenting your donors is an effective way of engaging your donor base. Instead of sending the same exact letter to your entire list, try a letter tailored to specific giving levels. Create a letter/ask template and tweek it a bit for each level. Highlight the positive result of $1,000+ gifts with your major donors. With your donors in the $100-250 dollar range, explain to them how a gift of $350 or $500 would have an even greater impact!

If you’re not already using your donor’s name in the salutation, you should be – rather than “Dear Friend” or “Dear Advocate”. Making the letter personal makes a huge difference. In addition, you can include the specific dollar amount of their last gift and ask them for an increase of X% or $X. This makes the ask extremely personal and will show that you focused this letter specifically on them.

If you have questions about donor segmenting, I know thedatabank staff have some great resources on their website and their staff are very knowledgeable about the topic.

Have fun

Perhaps the most important element in a direct mail piece is the tone. Remain positive and hopeful. Craft a letter that reflects the forward momentum of your organization. If you don’t enjoy reading the letter, why would your donors? Make sure it’s enjoyable to read (ok, it’s not a novel, but at least enjoyable for an appeal letter.)

Happy mailing!

~Joel Barker

Additional tips

– Use the word “you” throughout the letter, this speaks directly to the donor. (Ex: You have made this possible; Your gift has helped us accomplish…)

– Numbers and results are always good to show, it may not be why a donor gifts, but it can speak to how much they give.

– Show some personality and let your organizational culture shine through in your writing.

– Include a picture/image.

– Bold text you want donors to read, but don’t go overboard, only bold one sentence per paragraph. And keep your paragraphs to 3-4 sentences.