Why nonprofits can’t afford to ignore direct mail

Direct mail continues to be a strong resource for nonprofit fundraising campaigns.
Date Published
12/26/2013

Although nonprofit fundraising campaigns have decidedly taken advantage of digital channels, the merits of a direct mail initiative can’t be discounted quite so quickly. Social media and online platforms offer an array of benefits as well. They’re constantly accessible to those with Internet access and commonly integrate visually attractive graphics and video content.

That being said, not all digital content is as effective as direct mail can potentially be to draw in donors. This is especially true based on different demographics. In fact, a recent report from the research firm YouGov found that older donors are far more likely to contribute to a nonprofit organization through direct mail appeals than through other channels, such as social media. The differences are striking and should help inform future fundraising strategy that charitable groups create going forward.

Direct mail maintains dominance
According to the research, 21 percent of nearly 1,200 American adults indicated a direct mail appeal was the reason behind their most recent contribution. The likelihood of mailings hitting the mark with donors increases with age. The report found 25 percent of those 55 years old and above donated because of a direct mail prompt. As the age of donors decreases, the appeal of social media for fundraising projects is far more apparent, while only 14 percent of individuals between 18 and 34 were prompted to donate through direct mail appeals.

Alternative channels prove less effective
Still, social media plays a less significant role in donations than many would have anticipated. Only 11 percent of the younger donors cited social media as the linchpin for contributing, while a mere 3 percent of the older demographic claimed the same. This kind of data is important for nonprofit groups as they continually develop their donor management strategy. Segmenting donors by their preferred channel of appeals is an effective starting point.

What to avoid with direct mail
By understanding that all segments are more likely to respond to direct mail appeals, nonprofit groups can create more targeted materials. For instance, many organizations utilize brochures to provide donors with more in-depth information about ongoing projects. However, the online nonprofit resource Future Fundraising Now indicated brochures may not be the ideal way to reach out to donors.

While contributors are largely in favor of nonprofit enterprises providing detailed information about campaigns and projects, the format often precludes a personal connection. The website highlighted the fact that fundraising projects should have a heavy focus on donors. For example, instead of emphasizing the great achievements the organization has accomplished, nonprofits should change the rhetoric to bring donors into the messaging. There needs to be a concerted effort to change the language to reflect how donor participation has allowed the organization to reach its goals. There is certainly a context for a brochure during direct mail campaigns, but charitable groups can’t forget the best practices in appealing to donors by neglecting to make them unmistakably part of the mission and process.

Going further, nonprofit entities need to make sure their call-to-action in a direct mail donation appeal takes the preferences of contributors into account. This means giving individuals the opportunity to donate by whatever means is comfortable for them, whether it’s by check, telephone, organizational website or social media. The Tribune, a local newspaper from San Luis Obispo, Calif., stated 79 percent of all contributions come in the form of a check, which means philanthropic groups shouldn’t be quick to discount the method of payment or push donors online. Accordingly, organizations need to have a rapid response strategy in place to offer a notification form to let donors know their contribution has been received and they don’t have to worry about fraudulent activities with the check.

With any new strategy, testing is crucial to discover whether messaging and formatting are effective. Direct mail is still an influential channel, but it needs to be used with smart strategy.

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