Is fundraising direct mail different from other direct mail?

Not really.  Fundraising is a unique industry with its own unique challenges. But there is one aspect of the nonprofit world that is remarkably similar to the world of profit: they both use direct mail.  And the basic principles of direct mail are pretty much the same in both worlds.

We’re going to be looking at those basics over the next while. And if you’re an experienced fundraiser and think you don’t need to be thinking about the basics, I would ask you to think again.
But you say, “Hey I’ve been doing this for years and I think I know what should and shouldn’t be done in direct mail.”

And I say, think about a professional golfer. Years of experience. Got the basics down pat. But just about every one of them has a coach who is forever watching their swing because just one little variation from the basics, one little mistake, can mean the difference between winning or losing. And it’s the same in direct mail. Make just one mistake, one slip-up and it can mean the difference between success or failure in a campaign.

Want an example? Let’s say you’re an animal rescue organization and you’re sitting around the table discussing the direction of your next direct mail package. One very logical person wants to talk about how effective your organization is and wants to show how the money is being spent so wisely. Another person wants to tell the story of one specific animal who is alive today because of your organization.

When you know the basics, you know that the story approach will raise more money than the “look how we’re spending your money wisely” approach. When you know the basics, you know that emotion wins over logic just about every time. It’s been tested time and time again and emotion wins. In for-profit direct mail, in TV ads, in print advertising, in virtually any kind of marketing or advertising, emotion wins over logic.

We have a huge advantage in direct mail

One of the wonderful things about direct mail is that it is a great medium for testing. There are dozens of strategies and tactics that have been tested over and over and over by thousands of mailers. As a result, we know with virtual certainty some things that work and some things that don’t work. Lift letters work. Short paragraphs work. Simple language works. Donor lists work. A prompt thank you letter to donors works. Specifics work better than generalities. Suggesting the size of a gift works.

On the other hand, there are many things we know don’t work in direct mail:

  • Humor doesn’t work.
  • Sending a brochure without a letter doesn’t work.
  • Reverse copy doesn’t work.
  • Copy set in all caps doesn’t work.
  • Unsigned letters don’t work.

And the lists go on and on. Things you should do and things you shouldn’t do. These are the things we’re going to be talking about. And remember, no matter how much experience you have, it never hurts to be reminded that you’re doing things right.


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