Raising More With Direct Mail Fundraising: A Guide

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When your nonprofit is planning your fundraising campaigns, it can be difficult to decide which channels to pursue for sending appeals. In today’s digital world, you may assume that an all-digital approach would lend the best results, but that’s actually not the case.

While it’s true that direct mail isn’t the preferred venue for conversation between friends any longer, it’s still an effective channel to fundraise for nonprofit organizations. Despite its old-fashioned reputation, direct mail open and response rates are generally higher than those for digital.

At GivingMail, we’re dedicated to helping nonprofits plan, execute, and track the success of their direct mail fundraising campaigns—and we’ve helped hundreds of charities raise millions of dollars. Over the years, we’ve learned exactly how to make a direct mail fundraising campaign work, and we’re here to share our best tips to help you craft awesome direct mail appeals and succeed with your campaign. We suggest that you:

  1. Adjust your appeals during the pandemic
  2. Promote your existing virtual fundraising endeavors
  3. Balance cultivation and solicitation efforts
  4. Invest in powerful fundraising software

With our guide, you’ll walk away with all the knowledge you need to launch your direct mail campaign. Let’s get started.

1. Adjust your appeals during the pandemic

Fundraising through a pandemic presents certain challenges. In addition to the health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused professional and financial trouble for millions of Americans. Your donors are likely among them.

Despite the crisis, your mission still matters, and in fact, it may need more pressing attention due to the pandemic than it did before. Fundraising for your organization can and should continue through the pandemic. The principles and practices of fundraising haven’t changed, but how you go about implementing them should. Here are a few best practices for raising money during this time:

  • Be mindful of the ongoing health crisis and your donors’ possible hardships during this time. This includes possibly losing friends and family to COVID, getting laid off, and/or other life-changing events. The fundraising appeals you sent to supporters before the pandemic would likely read as tone-deaf during this time.
  • A good solution is to acknowledge the pandemic in your appeals. This shows that you’re paying attention to the current situation and are sympathetic to the major life changes it may be causing for your donors. After you acknowledge how the pandemic may be affecting them, you can go on to state how the pandemic has affected constituents of your own mission and proceed with your case for support.
  • Express your sympathy for your donors’ difficult year before you talk about your organization. This shows that you care about them and aren’t just single-mindedly focused on getting donations for your nonprofit. It makes your organization seem more personable to the donor, which means they’ll be more likely to donate if they can.
  • Conduct prospect research beforehand. Of course, if you have information about one of your major donors that, for instance, indicates they may have recently lost their job or a loved one, it’s best to avoid making a significant ask. Wait until a more appropriate time to make your appeal.

Fundraising for your nonprofit can and must go on, even during a global health crisis. With a little tact and sensitivity, you’ll continue to make progress toward your fundraising goals.

2. Promote your existing virtual fundraising endeavors

Direct mail is a wonderful way to engage your donors, but as checkbooks and cash become more and more rare, it’s wise to promote any virtual fundraising efforts within your direct mail appeals. That way, donors can choose how to respond: a physical donation by mail or an online donation after they’ve easily located the donation form on your website.

Plus, because direct mail and digital communications naturally have different target audiences, you’ll be able to capture more potential donors with a direct mail-backed digital campaign. Direct mail, being a longer-lasting, more substantial form of interaction with donors than electronic communications, could be just what some donors need to push them to send a donation.

Consider promoting the following in your direct mail appeals:

  • An online donation page that prioritizes ease-of-use and clarity conveniently located on your nonprofit’s website. Make sure your “Donate” button is anchored down so it can be accessed easily from any page on your site.
  • Social media accounts where your followers can be kept up-to-date on all of the latest developments in your organization and participate in peer-to-peer fundraising for your nonprofit.
  • A crowdfunding page if you are currently utilizing one and it is separate from your other online fundraising pages. Crowdfunding can harness the power of large numbers and spread awareness about your cause to a wide audience in a short period of time, garnering many donations along the way.
  • Virtual fundraising events like virtual auctions, walk-a-thons, and concerts. In light of the necessity of social distancing, gathering your supporters together to fundraise at a virtual event is a wonderful way to reinforce a sense of community and raise money for your cause.

Direct mail and digital fundraising each have efficacy on their own, but combining the two channels and targeting their efforts can be beneficial to your campaign. According to our nonprofit fundraising statistics at GivingMail, a campaign that utilizes digital and direct mail communications is 28% more effective than direct mail campaigns alone, so the two work well together to build momentum for your fundraising ventures and reach donors in different ways.

3. Balance cultivation and solicitation efforts

We’ve all had a friend who always seemed to be asking for a favor, whether it was a ride to school, a loan, or help on moving day. This dynamic doesn’t support a long-term, healthy relationship.

The same is true for your organization and its donors.

Yes, it’s necessary to request funds from your donors. But if the only mail they receive from you is a hard ask for support, they’re not likely to become loyal, longtime supporters.

Instead, it’s important to strike a balance between cultivation and solicitation.

Cultivation builds relationships with donors without the presence of a request for donations. Cultivating loyal supporters can be expensive and time-consuming, but think of these expenditures as an investment in your organization. It will pay off in the long run when you have a strong base of engaged supporters who deeply care about your cause. Some ways to contact your supporters to cultivate relationships are:

  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Invitations to events
  • Newsletters
  • Annual report

These types of interactions not only ensure that your donors are thinking about your organization, but also give them interesting ways to engage other than donating.

Solicitation is also a necessary part of fundraising. At some point, you have to directly ask your supporters for donations. Every organization is different, and the exact pace of asks vs. cultivation contacts should be decided with your team based on data from past campaigns, your fundraising needs, and your campaign strategy. When the time comes, we recommend following the tips in this guide on how to ask for donations.

4. Invest in powerful fundraising software

In order to make the most of your direct mail campaign, you’ll want to invest in at least a few vital fundraising software tools. (Tip: integrations between your software platforms will make sure that data flows freely between them and will maximize the benefits of each individual tool.) We recommend the following:

  • Donor management software. Donor management software provides a comprehensive database to store your donors’ information and interaction histories. You can store everything from your donors’ ages, locations, and preferred contact method to average gift size and volunteer history. Plus, donor management software automatically analyzes your data for key metrics, so you can extract important insights from your past campaigns.
  • Direct mail platform. This type of software allows you to plan, execute, and track your direct mail campaigns with ease. Customization is possible thanks to information from your donor management system, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to manually enter every data point. A direct mail platform can automatically customize and fill direct mail letter templates, so you’ll have personal direct mail campaigns without a massive time investment.
  • An online donation page. An online donation page is essential to accommodate your digital and direct mail fundraising efforts. Without one, you’d be missing out on a wealth of potential donors and donations. You’ll want the capability to integrate your form with your donor management software so you don’t have to re-enter data about your online donations manually. Then, be sure to include a URL or QR code leading to this online form in your direct mailings.

Make sure to do your research about each tool before choosing one for your nonprofit’s fundraising activities. Keep in mind that while software can be expensive, it’s a vital investment for the further development of your nonprofit—any expenses will surely be repaid in the long run in the form of donations from your supporters.


Direct mail is a wonderful way to engage with your supporters, whether or not the communication is focused on cultivating relationships or soliciting donations. Be sure to strike a balance between the two when you’re strategizing for your next fundraising campaign, have the necessary software to succeed, and at least for the time being, recognize that a global pandemic is happening, even as your organization continues to need support.

If you follow these tips, your next direct mail campaign is sure to be a resounding success. Best of luck!

This post was contributed by Grant Cobb at GivingMail.

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.

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