Direct mail is any print-based fundraising material delivered to people, including addressed mail, unaddressed (door-drops) and inserts.
The CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Code, regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority, states that marketing must always be legal, decent, honest and truthful. These principles are echoed in the Code of Fundraising Practice.
Marketing law and best practice are clearly set out in the CAP Code and the Code of Fundraising Practice.
Fundraising campaigns often deal with sensitive and emotive topics, but they must be decent and cannot cause serious or widespread offence.
Be cautious around the use of 'shock tactics', weighing up the potential benefits against the risks. Make sure you can justify the use of any images or text that may shock or offend people, with a clear warning given on the outer envelope of any mailings.
Carefully consider the impact of any controversial campaigns on people who may be vulnerable (see our Treating Donors Fairly guidance).
Make sure you have measures in place to ensure that more confrontational campaigns are reviewed at an early stage of development by experienced and senior people within the charity. Also consider such campaigns from the perspective of supporters and beneficiaries alike.
Ensure your marketing materials are truthful and don't mislead people whether by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise. This means making it clear who and what you are fundraising for and including a statement to show how any funds will be split if you are working with other charities or commercial partners.
Check that you can substantiate any claims made in your marketing materials.
When using case studies, make sure they accurately represent your charity's work and/or its beneficiaries (it’s important to portray the people we are fundraising to support in a positive and respectful way).
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) runs a Copy Advice Service to check the intended content of marketing campaigns and answer questions about data use.
How you communicate your charity's need for funds will vary from organisation to organisation, but there are some basic requirements that should be included on every charity mailing. This includes the:
Typically, charities include website and email addresses on mail literature, as well as relevant contact numbers, making it as easy as possible for supporters or beneficiaries to reach them.
Always remember that fundraising materials should be inclusive and accessible. Consider the needs of your recipients and do what you can to ensure that you provide the information in a variety of formats (see our Treating Donors Fairly guidance).
If you are using any personal data (for example an individual’s name and address) you need to do so in line with data protection legislation. Charities using direct mail for fundraising will usually need to be registered with Information Commissioner’s Office.
The key thing to remember is that supporters should be able to choose how they receive information from your charity. In practice, this means:
Fundraising mail can either be addressed to specific individuals or delivered as unaddressed door drops. Different techniques will be used for different campaigns. Typically, addressed mail requires good data management and may come at a greater cost (including staff time and data management), but achieves higher response rates than unaddressed mail. The latter can be relatively quick to distribute, but is often identified as 'junk mail' and can contribute to concerns about environmental waste.
If your mail campaign is to be targeted and addressed, you'll need to have good and up-to-date records that are well maintained. Targeted campaigns should be built around any knowledge you have of your intended audience and, where relevant, their response to previous campaigns. Consider if the mailing is likely to be relevant and of interest to them. Is the donation amount set at the right level for that audience segment? When did you last approach that supporter for funds (see below, How often can we mail supporters)?
Unaddressed mail can be relatively quick and easy to distribute. When sending out unaddressed mail, be aware of the potential negative impact of a delivery method that cannot identify current supporters and bypasses safeguards such as the Mailing Preference Service. It is also important to look into door-to-door suppression schemes in the area. Always consider the environmental impact and potential reputational risk of issuing large volumes of unsolicited mail that may be perceived as 'junk mail'.
Although you will want to keep your supporters informed and engaged with your work, be aware overly frequent mailings may upset supporters and this may damage the relationship you have with them. Some people may be more comfortable with higher levels of communication from the charity, while others may want little or no mailings or prefer to be communicated with in other ways (such as email). Make sure you log and take into account any feedback about the frequency of mail.
It is important to consider the impact of all fundraising activity on the environment, particularly when it comes to: mailings, the source of paper and other materials used, frequency, potential waste, and enclosures.
Claims such as 'environmentally friendly' or 'wholly biodegradable' should only be used with justification. Where applicable, organisations are encouraged to display a recycling logo such as 'recycle now' on mail packs.
Enclosures in direct mail packs can take a variety of forms. These might include incentives to encourage donations, inserts that demonstrate the work of the charity or thank you gifts.
Used well, they can be an effective tool for fundraising, awareness-raising and supporter engagement. Poorly used, they can provoke a negative reaction from recipients; raising concerns that funds have been used carelessly, or concerns over environmental wastage. This can pose a reputational risk to the organisation and wider sector.
If you're including enclosures, you must be able to demonstrate that the purpose of the enclosure is to enhance the message and/or the emotional engagement in the cause, rather than to induce donations out of a feeling of guilt or embarrassment. Avoid including enclosures that might be difficult to deliver or cause inconvenience for the recipient.
Always consider the safety of any enclosures and their environmental impact, encouraging recipients to recycle where possible.
For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our cookies page.
Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.
We'd like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. We’d also like to set Dotdigital website behaviour cookies to improve the email communications you receive from us by collecting information on the content you view on our website.