Why direct mail lies at the very heart of great fundraising

20 May 2020
Supporter Stewardship
Standard Content

In this blog, Mark Phillips from Bluefrog Fundraising looks at why direct mail is the approach he trusts over the long-term, and how it's more important as a fundraising channel than ever before.

There are many ways to fundraise: face to face, telephone, digital, broadcast, press and direct mail.

But one, stands out. Particularly at the moment when we sit at home, waiting for the Coronavirus pandemic to subside.

It’s not as easy as the phone or face to face, it’s not as cheap as digital, it’s not repeated day after day like TV ads, but it’s the one approach that I trust to recruit and engage donors over the long-term. It’s direct mail.

It’s been part of the fundraising tool-box for hundreds of years because, by its very nature, it complements the most simple or the most complex of fundraising asks.

First off, it is personal. It’s a way for getting the words of the beneficiary – or the people dedicated to helping them – into the hands, heart and mind of the recipient. The signatory of your letter is as close to the problem as it is possible to get. Whether they are leading the charity, working on the streets of Goma in the DRC or in need of help themselves the fact is, the signatory of a direct mail pack has the authority, authenticity and knowledge to make an ask in the most emotive and real way possible.

Direct mail allows you to refer to your door by name and gives you the opportunity to relate your appeal to the reader’s situation and interests. It can also allow you to ask for the amount appropriate to what the donor has shown they can afford.

Second, it allows you to tell a story, with a range of emotions – sadness, excitement, relief and happiness – all in the same pack. And you can support that story with evidence about the scale of a problem, the impact that a donor can have and what might happen if your request for help should go unanswered.

There are few restrictions on length in a mailing pack. You can write a letter as long as it needs to be. And detail is welcomed by people who are interested in your work. Indeed, in a well-crafted pack, four pages of copy will normally generate a better response than just two pages.

And what else can you add? Photographs, copies of newspaper articles or academic reports? All elements that add weight to your appeal and emotional strength to your argument. Emphasise the most important points with the brightest of highlighter pens or Post-Its. Not only does this drive engagement it also shows care – that you have considered what the donor needs to know and taken the time to provide it. You are not slipping a leaflet into an envelope, you are curating a host of facts, thoughts and information to help the donor make the decision to support you. Done well, a great direct mail pack, can make decision making enjoyable and rewarding.

Getting to know your donors through testing

And what other fundraising technique allows you to learn so much from your donors. We don’t know what goes through a donor’s mind when they make a decision to give to us. We don’t know what memories we are stirring or hopes we are creating. But through testing, direct mail allows us to understand what donors want and what motivates them

Do people want to hear from beneficiaries or staff? Do they want to give single gifts or sign up to a direct debit? Do they want to hear about one project or another? Direct mail allows you to ask all these questions as tests in your mailing programme. If you don’t know an answer, test it. Write a letter from the CEO to one part of your audience whilst the other will receive a letter from a beneficiary.

Test outer envelopes. Your brand and strapline versus plain white and a postage stamp. Can you guess what might work best? Testing will tell you. You can even test the weight of paper you print on and you’ll find out that the cheaper stock is welcomed by donors as it shows you are making every penny count.

Every test will tell you something important about your donors. When you analyse your results, you’ll build an understanding of what your audience wants and what they don’t want. You can then build an approach that keeps them happy and giving.

That’s what makes direct mail so special. Not only will it build loyalty amongst supporters, not only will it generate high levels of generosity it will also bring you closer to your donors and give you insight and understanding into what they want, what they care about and what they want to do.

That is why great direct mail should be at the heart of every fundraising programme. The greatest compliment we can ever pay a donor is getting to know them. Direct mail is the way to do that whilst you do what your beneficiaries need – raise money.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
Managing Director at Bluefrog Fundraising
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