Is it that time?  Already?  Has direct mail overstayed its welcome?  Are donors pleading for direct mail to vacate the premises?  Are fundraisers ready to give direct mail the boot?

The answer?  A resounding “NO,” according to Tyrone Freeman, Associate Director of Public Service and The Fundraising School, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Freeman speak at a recent Annual Fund Affinity Group in the Indiana Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Sure, online appeals are popular.  And, sure, text giving is now nationally recognized (because of the philanthropic response to the unfortunate tragedy in Haiti).  These different charitable vehicles have certainly been proven to be effective for particular causes, certain donor groups, and specific circumstances.

And, when it comes to direct mail, the same is true.  This fundraising vehicle has its proper place in the total development plan, and it’s not leaving anytime soon.  So, here are some suggestions to make sure you are getting it right.  Otherwise, you just may turn out to be the fundraiser that killed direct mail.

  1. Personalize – Are you still talking about your cause and your impact in third person?  Donors don’t want to hear about organizations and entities; they like stories about living, breathing people told by living, breathing people.  Use “I” or “We.”
  2. Target – Are you still sending the same letter to every person that you have contact information for?  Donors’ preferences vary.  Segment your supporters into specific constituency groups – perhaps by demographics, relationship with the organization, motivation to give, or favorite program.  Address these differences with different versions of your letter.
  3. Integrate – Are you still planning your development and marketing tasks separately and refusing to coordinate your different appeals?  Consider coordinating your fundraising plan so that the website, the social media, the publications, and the appeals all make sense together.  A few days after a direct mail piece is sent, follow-up with a reminder email.
  4. Test – Are you still wondering how to improve your direct mail piece but don’t have sufficient information for decision-making?  Make simple changes to your direct mail piece and track the results.  For example, send half of your donors the letter with a picture, and send half of your donors the letter without a picture.  Track which received a greater number of positive responses and which received a greater average gift size.

By following these four guidelines, you will, hopefully, make more sense of where direct mail fits within your total development plan.  What other methods can help you increase the effectiveness of your direct mail program?  Please leave a comment with your suggestion!

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