Here’s a guide that can help your direct mail fundraising appeals raise 10-25% more than you did last year – based on proven statistics.
I’ve compiled all the latest fundraising research into a set of up-to-the-minute best practice tips. If you follow these, you should be able to raise lots of money for your cause through direct mail fundraising appeals.
(Warning, this is a long post.)
- Use the same fundraising appeal message in your mail solicitations, on your web site “call to action” and in your email communications – to reinforce your message over and over.
- Focus more on your donor and what he or she wants to accomplish than on your organization.
- The appeal letter can have only one objective: a clear ask for support. It is not a newsletter, an end-of-year report or item mixed in with other communications.
- Your top priority is always to renew your past donors.
- Don’t solicit any donors until you have shown them what results you have accomplished with their first gift.
- Be sure to communicate with your donors frequently in between appeals so they are up to date and feel connected to your organization.
DRAW YOUR DONORS IN VIA DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISING APPEALS
- Use the word “you” immediately in the first sentence of your appeal.
- Repeat the word “you” frequently: it’s most important word in your letter. Always make it about the donor.
- Immediately thank donors for their past support in the first or second lines. I like to open every letter with “thank you” to remind the donor of their partnership for the cause.
- Use the word “I” in the letter to make it more personal and friendly. It does wonders changing your tone from “institutional” to “personal.”
- Tell a story. Narrative is far more powerful than a set of statistics and organizational accomplishments.
- Use photos in your letter or accompanying materials. The donor will read captions under photos before your letter copy.
- Always use photos of people, not buildings. It’s what happens inside the buildings that counts.
- Photos of cute kids and attractive people draw better than photos of sick kids. (Cute animals draw better than sick animals.)
- Always, always, always send out personalized letters. (Dear Mr. Smith rather than Dear Friend)
- In the letter copy, talk about your donor’s interests and their “kind” or “loyal” or “valued” support.
UPGRADE YOUR DONORS
- Focus on more frequent gift opportunities each year as a way to upgrade your donors to higher giving levels.
- Establish a monthly giving program. People who give monthly will give more.
- Use gift clubs to encourage higher-level donations. Ask donors to move up to the next level.
- When you ask for an upgraded gift: talk about an increased or enhanced partnership with the donor.
CREATE A DYNAMITE CASE
- Talk about opportunities not your needs.
- Make your message emotional. Donors give out of emotion, then justify it with logic.
- One story is more powerful than three stories. Stories inspire and encourage action.
- Make your story short but powerful.
- Give your story details to make it real.
- Emphasize how you change or save lives: your life-affirming, or life-saving work.
- Make your letter as personal in tone as you can.
- DON’T use the words “programs” or “services” any more than you have to. They are boring and too generic.
- Repeat the case for support – the need and its urgency – several times in the letter.
- Use statistics to build credibility and make the cause more concrete.
- Describe your project as “innovative,” trailblazing” or “groundbreaking,” and your work as “wide-ranging, ” comprehensive,” or extensive.”
- Offer the donor proof that your organization has made a significant impact and can do much more.
- If you are a membership organization, be sure to emphasize membership in your appeal. Membership helps create a closer bond between the donor and your organization.
Download the pdf:112 Tips to Raise More Money By Mail
WRITE A DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISING APPEAL LETTER YOUR DONORS WILL READ
- Break up your letter copy with boldface headings.
- Make your letter easy to skim and still deliver its message.
- Have plenty of white space on the letter, which makes it easy to read.
- Use snappy action verbs that convey action.
- Use short, concise sentences and paragraphs.
- Write on the 5th grade level for easy reading. (like these tips)
- Use present tense.
- Never, ever use the passive voice. (“people are being helped”)
- Use wide margins to add white space.
- Use type large enough to read easily. 12 point type is the minimum size appropriate for fundraising material.
- ALL CAPS is ok for emphasis.
- Boldface is wonderful for emphasis, and helps break up the copy.
- Use the word “you” in headings.
- Use bullets to break up the copy.
- Eliminate every possible word – including adjectives and descriptive phases – in your copy.
- Include a date on the letter.
- Longer letters with more pages are more successful than one page letters.
CREATE A KILLER ASK
- Use a matching or challenge gift opportunity and tell your donors it will make their gifts go further.
- Always ask for a specific amount or “the largest contribution you can make.”
- Place your ask in the first part of a paragraph. Don’t bury your ask at the end of a sentence or paragraph – it will get missed.
- Don’t ask for a “gift,” ask instead for an investment, a contribution, for help or to supply something special.
- Create a sense of urgency by asking for an immediate contribution or asking for help with an urgent or critical situation.
- Use please such as “please send your gift today” or “please consider a leadership contribution of xxx.”
- Ask based on your donor’s giving history.
- Give the donor a deadline for responding and a reason for the deadline.
END THE DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISING APPEAL LETTER WITH A BANG
- Say “I urge you to do your part to help.”
- Use a handwritten PS at the end. The donor will read this first.
- Use these words for the PS: “Thank you for helping with this important need” or “Please send your check today to help with….”
- Include a personal handwritten note to the reader from the sender.
- Personally sign letters. The more personal the letter, the better chance you have to receive a gift.
- Whenever possible, have the signers of the letters actually sign in blue ink.
- WHO SIGNS is vitally important: it should be a person whose name the donors will recognize – someone with clout and authority. This is never the development director and rarely the executive director.
- Endorsements of your work by celebrities or local personalities can add credibility.
RAISE MORE FROM YOUR TOP DONORS
- Send your Top Donors special, custom-tailored personal letters and appeals.
- Have board and staff members write or visit them personally with an individualized appeal.
- Use words like “exceptional” or “outstanding” when you refer to their past gifts, support and involvement in your cause.
- Thank them in the opening sentence for their continuing and steadfast support. Emphasize their partnership with your cause.
- Ask the donor to send the largest gift they can.
- Ask these donors to make a leadership gift.
CREATE A PLAN and SCHEDULE YOUR MAILINGS
- Set up a calendar of mailings and plan ahead.
- Mail several times a year to your entire donor base.
- Segment your mailing list and mail personalized appeals to specially targeted groups. (i.e., past donors, volunteers, people who have attended your auction, corporate sponsors, board members, past board members)
- Mail to donors more often than nondonors.
- Track your LYBUNTS (people who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This) carefully and send them repeated (cheerful and enthusiastic) appeals to be sure they renew. Once a donor has given for two straight years, they are likely to remain a donor for the long run.
- Develop a series of appeals to SYBUNTS. (People who gave Some Year But Unfortunately Not This year). “We’ve missed you!”
- The letters you send to your LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS should remind them of their past support and remind them how much they have helped create your success.
Download the pdf: 112 Tips to Raise More Money By Mail
COMMUNICATE WHEN YOU ARE NOT ASKING
- Find ways to communicate cheerfully with your donor base outside of the newsletter and mailing solicitations.
- Don’t send a dull newsletter. Studies show that donors think nonprofit newsletters are boring.
- Write to your donors often with newsletters, alerts or other news – both in the mail and via email.
FOLLOWUP MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE WITH DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISING APPEALS
- Send a followup letter a few weeks after your appeal: “we didn’t hear from you and we need you to respond.”
- Studies show that followup letters are the most important factor in securing the donor’s gift.
- Followup letters need to be short and play on urgency and the emotions.
- Write your followup letter at the same time you write the first letter.
- Use a different kind of envelope for the followup letter.
- Organize the board members to make phone calls to follow up appeals to donors. You can’t lose by following up with a personal call.
WELCOME NEW DONORS
- Create a dynamite welcome packet for new donors. This will help them renew when the time comes to ask again. Only 35-50% of new donors will typically renew.
- Craft a special thank you and communication program for first-time donors. Celebrate the beginning of this partnership!
- Invite new donors to get involved. Move quickly to develop the relationship to keep them on your bandwagon.
DON’T FORGET THESE PROSPECTS
- Identify local businesses that you have a relationship with and send them a special appeal for higher amounts.
- Solicit all the businesses who supported your most recent auction or gala. Ask for additional support apart from the auction.
- Add your vendors to your appeal list and request their support at least twice a year.
- Don’t forget these prospective donors: family foundations, churches, civic clubs.
LINK TO YOUR WEB SITE
- Include your website address. Donors, even when they give with a check in the mail, are highly likely to check out your website.
- Use different landing pages and urls to track donors’ responses to individual appeals.
- Create a landing page on your web site for replies to appeals.
- Refer donors to a “your gift at work” page on your site.
CREATE A DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISING APPEAL PACKET THAT BRINGS RESULTS
- Your mailing packet should include four pieces:
- The solicitation letter
- A reply/pledge card
- A return envelope for the reply card
- The outside envelope.
- Always use a return envelope. It is critically important to make sure it is easy for people to give.
- Your package can also contain a fundraising brochure but does not have to. A good letter can be sufficient.
- Any brochure enclosed with a solicitation should have a specific fundraising message or it should not be included.
- The reply slip needs to stand out in the package.
USE A REPLY CARD THAT SELLS
- Put a headline on the reply card such as “Yes! I want to help!”
- Add a one-sentence summary of your case.
- Show gift levels in terms of how it would help your cause:
- $100 will buy xx shoes
- $500 will help 5 families with food
- Limit the amount of information you request from your donor.
- Use check boxes on your reply slip.
- Make sure there is room for handwriting on the reply card.
- Make the reply card paper easy to write on.
- Circle the amount you are requesting from the donor on the reply card.
- Pre-print the donor’s name and address on the reply form.
- Include a postage paid business reply envelope.
DON’T FORGET YOUR INFRASTRUCTURE!
- Use a mail house to process your mailings efficiently. You’ll more than make up this cost through increased efficiency.
- Upgrade your fundraising software – you must have a sophisticated state of the art data base system in order to manage an expanded mailing program.
- The print quality of everything you send out needs to be first class. Never cut corners – this appeal represents your organization and needs to look professional.
- Make updating your list a priority. Assign a staff member whose responsibility is to keep the mailing list up-to-date and clean.
If you’d like to store this for future reference: download the pdf: 112 Tips to Raise More Money By Mail.
If this guide is helpful to you, please forward it to someone who is trying to raise more money for their important cause.
And leave your comments here – tell me what you think!