This is the first installment in a series of 10 posts dedicated to fundraising best practices.  Once a week for the next 10 weeks, I’ll cover another best practice topic.  The areas I’ll explore are:

  1. Direct Mail
  2. E-mail Fundraising
  3. Online Donation Pages
  4. Thank You Receipting
  5. Social Media
  6. Fundraising Events
  7. Upgrading Donors
  8. Stewardship Strategies
  9. Cultivating Major Gifts
  10. Planned Gift Prospecting

Fundraising Best Practice Series: Volume 1, Direct Mail

Create a mail calendar and solicit donors on a regular basis.  I recommend mailing a solicitation letter once per month (twice in some months), at least.  Now, you may feel that this is too frequent.  Don’t let your feelings get in the way of sound strategy.  Getting in front of donors on a monthly basis gives them ample opportunity to support you when they are ready.  And it keeps your organization top of mind.  If you’re not regularly talking with your donors, another organization will.  And they’ll get the next gift instead of you.

Don’t water down your offer.  People give to you because you have an urgent, compelling need that they can solve.  The further you get from urgent and compelling, the lower your response rates will be.

Matching challenge campaigns will improve both response and revenue.  In testing, I’ve seen matching offers used successfully as many as eight times per year.  Don’t be shy about using a match in your appeals.  Donors love leverage – especially major donors.

Segment your donor file prior to mailing to reduce costs and maximize net revenue.  Focus on RFM (Recency, Frequency and Monetary Amount), but pay special attention to acquisition source as well.  Acquisition source has major implications for 2nd gift conversion, retention and Long-Term Donor Value (LTDV). 

Increase response rates by including an involvement device in your mail package. 

Give donors multiple response options.  Obviously you’ll include a reply card and envelope in your mail package.  But in addition to that, be sure to include an online giving option and phone # in case donors want to make a credit card contribution by phone.

Premiums can lift response.  They’re not my favorite because they have the potential to negatively impact long-term retention.  BUT, if the front-end results improve significantly enough, premiums might make sense for your organization.  It’s worth testing (at least once).

Improve your response and overall revenue by adding an e-mail component to your direct mail campaigns.  Every time you drop mail, you should send a corresponding (same offer and creative treatment) e-mail to any donor for whom you have a valid e-mail address. 

Use variable ask amounts to improve response and average gift.  Instead of asking everyone on your file for the same gift amount(s), customize the ask to each donor’s personal gift history.  Depending on the time of year, consider further customizing to either maximize average gift or increase appeal participation.

Don’t pull your middle/major donors out of your direct mail stream.  Regardless of what a well intentioned board or staff member might think, major donors enjoy getting your mail and they’ll give generously in response to it. 

Give middle and major donors special treatment in the mail.  Consider adjusting mail frequency, and send them higher quality mail packages (closed face envelopes, First Class postage, different inserts, more complex/bundled offers, etc.).

Restrict mail frequency on an individual basis.  Don’t stop mailing your entire file becaus 10 donors complained.  Instead, adjust the mail frequency for those 10 donors based on their feedback. 

Once or twice a year, it’s ok to send your monthly donors an extra “stretch” appeal in the mail.  At the very least, include them in your strongest year-end appeal.

Test frequently.  Test things that matter.  Things like audience (this will have the greatest impact), offer, timing and creative.  But if budget is limited, focus your testing on audience first.  Once you’ve fine tuned your audience, you can begin testing other elements.

Remember the P.S.  Sorry to break it to you, but testing reveals that most donors will only skim your letter.  So use the P.S. to restate your core offer and make one final ask.

Customize your thank you letters to tie back to your appeal so that donors feel like they’re getting an update on the project they’re invested in. 

Frequency increases awareness and response.  Mail a series of appeals that build upon one another.  While the first mailing will generate the highest response, follow-up mailings can deliver 25% – 50% in additional revenue.

Put an envelope in your thank you letters.  Please.  Testing shows that simply adding the reply envelope (no additional ask) can result in a 10% lift in income from your campaign.  For example, if you raise $10,000 in a campaign, your thank you receipts from the campaign should deliver an additional $1,000. 

What other direct mail best practices would you recommend?