Writing and mailing a fundraising appeal is a popular fundraising strategy for nonprofit organizations. Some have said lately that direct mail is dead, but it’s not true. Direct mail is still the most cost-effective way to reach out to the bulk of your donors to ask for their support.

Being successful in raising money through the mail is both art and science. You must write a compelling letter that moves the donor to make a gift. And you must send the letter to people are most likely to respond to it.

It’s a letter right? How hard can this be?

It’s harder than it looks.  Many nonprofits plow into sending a letter without thinking during their homework.  Their letter doesn’t resonate with the reader and the results are dismal.

I’ve talked to LOTS of people over the years who have told me their sad story about how they tried direct mail and it just didn’t work. (I can usually guess exactly what they did and didn’t do.)  Some of them invested thousands of dollars hoping for a huge return, and got only a few donations for their efforts.

First, realize that people are busy and your letter is an interruption in their day.  They will decide in a matter of seconds whether or not to open the envelope and in a few more seconds they will decide whether or not to give.  Your letter must grab their attention, tell a story, and ask for a gift. If you do that well, you’ll get what you want – a gift.

Second, understand that they won’t read the entire letter.  They’ll skim.  So you have to hit the main points early and often.

So, in an effort to keep anyone in my tribe from making this mistake in the future, I’m sharing the 3 biggest and most common mistakes made in direct mail.

1. Picking the wrong list. Don’t mail to a list of names from certain zip codes, like the ones where all the “rich people” in town live, thinking that you’re going to get a great return on investment. In fact, even when you choose the list correctly, you may only get a 1% response. Breaking even on acquiring new donors is the best you can hope for, and that’s when you mail to the right list.

2. Sending a boring letter. Nobody purposefully writes and sends a boring letter.  Yet if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can happen.  Your letter needs emotionally grip the reader’s heart. It needs to tell a great story. It needs to establish credibility. And it has to include a direct call to action. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

3. Trying to do it yourself to save money. If you want to raise money through the mail, get some help from someone who knows how to do it. There are lots of places where you can derail the train if you aren’t careful. Why not get the help you need and be certain of your success instead of chance it? A good copywriter can make the letter sizzle. A good mail house can save you money on postage. Use them.

If you’re planning to do a mailing this Fall as part of your year-end campaign, now is the time to start planning it. You’ll have plenty of time to get all the details right so your appeal will generate big bucks for you.


Want more help with direct mail? The Get Fully Funded system has a whole section on it, including creating a plan for your mailings, production schedule templates and samples, estimating costs and projecting revenue, choosing a mailing list, and writing the letter. Get all the details at http://getfullyfunded.com/get-fully-funded-system/.

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