New Donor Acquisition: Where to Mail

Digital technology can help with nonprofit management.
Date Published
Amy Houke

First things first—location, location, location

Location is everything. Your fundraising efforts are limited to the size of your service area, but that doesn’t mean that your entire service area should be included in your donor acquisition mail efforts. The cost of direct mail—particularly new donor acquisition—is too high to not give some serious thought—before mailing—to where your investment should be directed. Knowing where your donors live is critical. Heavy donor presence in an area indicates that your brand is strong there and that the demographics of the area’s population match those of your current donors.

Your past success acquiring new donors through the mail is a good indicator of future success. So focus your donor acquisition efforts in the locations most likely to produce new donors.

Doing the analysis…

It is important to not look just at the number of donors you have within a ZIP Code radius. ZIP Codes vary greatly in terms of population and number of households. To accurately compare ZIP Codes, you must calculate a penetration level for each ZIP Code—the percentage that your donors represent of the total households. For example, you can see that two ZIP Codes with the same number of donors look very different when you look at them with the right perspective.

ZIP Code Number of Donors Number of Households Percent Penetration
12345 50 5,000 1.00%
12346 50 15,000 0.33%

Not all ZIP Codes are the same…

ZIP Codes that have historically been a part of your donor acquisition mailing program should be held to a higher standard than ZIP Codes you have never mailed. In other words, if you’ve never asked for money via the mail in a ZIP Code, we’d expect your penetration to be relatively low there. If you’ve actually achieved a respectable penetration level without mailing there, think about what your organization could achieve if you actually invited people to give! By the same token, if you have been mailing a ZIP Code for years and have not gained any real traction there, it’s time to give up there when it comes to costly acquisition mail.

Make your acquisition mail work hard for you and don’t accept marginal performance. Making tweaks to the geographical parameters of your mail is just one way to improve the performance of your new donor acquisition efforts.

So before you start planning your next acquisition mail campaign—firming up your budget, choosing a package, and writing copy—look closely at where your mail should be placed. It’s just one way to make the most of your acquisition budget.

About the Author:
Amy Houke
Media Director, Agency Services

Role at the Company

I am responsible for providing media research and recommendations to AFG clients. I work closely with other AFG team members to assure that prospect list and print recommendations are consistent with the overall strategic and creative direction of each program.

My experience has included media planning for many types of non-profit clients, including public broadcasting stations, animal welfare organizations and food banks.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

Successful fundraising is about getting your organization’s mission into the hearts of your current and prospective donors. My job is to identify your future donors. That comes from a deep understanding of who your current donors are and what they look like. That’s exciting!

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

I enjoy serving in small group leadership and doing local mission work with my church.

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