Nonprofit fundraising has evolved over the years, adapting to new trends in marketing and online interactions. Social media and email tend to be go-to marketing strategies due to their low startup costs. However, while virtual and online oriented strategies are worth pursuing, traditional mail appeals continue to reign as one of the most effective fundraising tools overall. 

Direct mail appeals are targeted letters, cards, and other tangible forms of communication tailored to individual supporters. Like with any fundraising method, its medium impacts its effectiveness, but so does the effort and strategy behind your approach. 

Few fundraising campaigns succeed without the rest of your nonprofit team on board, so explaining how and why direct mail will benefit your organization before launching your campaign is a critical step in the process. 

Our team at GivingMail has experience assisting all kinds of nonprofits with maximizing fundraising revenue through direct mail outreach. We’ve put together this guide to showcase why direct mail continues to be such a powerful fundraising strategy. Specifically, we’ll explain how direct mail can:

  1. Share your nonprofit’s story
  2. Spread the word about other fundraising efforts
  3. Encourage interaction with supporters
  4. Raise money to pursue your mission

Before you draft your first fundraising letters, choose a specific, measurable goal for your direct mail appeals. For example, if your goal is to encourage interactivity, be sure to track which letters receive responses and analyze your data for trends to determine why. Taking this approach to not just your direct mail appeals, but all fundraising efforts will help your nonprofit continually improve with each campaign. Let’s jump in!

1. Share your nonprofit’s story

Direct mail gives your nonprofit more choices for what you communicate than digital marketing can. While readers may still skim before deciding whether or not to read your entire appeal, physical objects such as cards and letters encourage more interaction as readers pick up and evaluate each letter they see rather than scrolling by on their computer or mobile device. 

The benefits of physical letters allow your nonprofit to explain its mission, history, and success stories in greater detail than you could in online advertising. However, even though readers are more inclined to pick up your letter, you still need to convince them to keep reading to the end. 

Successful nonprofit storytellers know that most readers will decide if a story is worth their time after the first line or two. That’s why they write their letters to hold supporters’ attention by:

  • Introducing a relatable protagonist. As readers, we have trouble relating to large groups of people. Stories are most effective when told through the actions of one person your audience can sympathize with and envision. Think about who will be reading your letter when choosing your protagonist and framing them as the hero. For example, instead of describing how your nonprofit improved its constituents’ lives, tell your story, so it’s the donors, volunteers, or other supporters who achieve this success. 
  • Invoking high-energy emotions. You may assume that some types of communication don’t lend themselves to emotional appeals like case studies and statistics. However, while your supporters appreciate facts and logic to help back up their opinions about your nonprofit, their initial ideas will be formed by their emotional responses. When you tell your nonprofit’s story, provide factual evidence of your success and importance but give center stage to high-energy emotions like excitement, frustration, and urgency. 
  • Focusing on the positive. Your nonprofit exists to solve a specific problem in the world, and creating a sense of urgency so your supporters act to support your mission is a critical component of compelling storytelling. However, focusing too deeply on the negatives of the situation can cause your mission to come across as hopeless. End your story on a positive call to action to convince your supporters your work is worth the investment. 

Direct mail appeals should appeal to your supporters. Consider what stories will have the most impact on your audience, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different types. Keep track of which stories receive the most attention to help collect data to inform your next outreach effort. 

2. Spread the word about other fundraising efforts

Your fundraising letters will contain a request for a donation, but they are also a space to let your supporters know about future and concurrent fundraising events. As you know, promoting fundraisers is expensive. Creating multiple touchpoints by reaching out through social media, email, and direct mail appeals broadens your audience while increasing the chance that supporters who receive multiple messages will respond. 

GivingMail’s guide to nonprofit fundraising explains how outreach strategies that combine digital marketing and direct mail appeals increase their response rate by about 28%. While your event attendance or fundraising success will vary based on other factors, raising awareness for your nonprofit’s engagement opportunities in high-response communication is an economical use of your nonprofit’s limited resources. 

For example, if your nonprofit has decided to start a shoe drive fundraiser, you’ll need to consider the costs of marketing the event against the revenue you hope to generate. Any marketing approach requires an investment of time and resources, and getting the word out first in a fundraising letter can help earn donations to tide your nonprofit over while you prepare for your next fundraiser. 

By first alerting supporters through direct mail, you are issuing personalized invitations for supporters to participate. The physical presence of the letter in their homes is also more likely to ensure supporters remember to donate a pair of shoes before the fundraiser’s end. 

Your nonprofit can then use other channels to create a sense of momentum started by your letter through social media posts and follow-up emails. Multi-channel approaches work best when each piece of communication builds on the one before it by reporting progress updates, establishing a sense of urgency as your fundraiser reaches its end, or sharing the impact that has happened due to generous donations. 

3. Encourage interaction with supporters

Engaged supporters tend to be long-term supporters. They believe in your mission, but only asking for money can make them feel like ATMs rather than a community. Direct mail appeals can improve your supporter outreach by making personal connections where digital marketing efforts often struggle. 

As we are so used to online marketing and communication, many see traditional marketing as taking extra effort. It means supporters who receive personalized cards or letters will feel greater acknowledgment than if they only receive an automatic thank you email. Supporters who have a personal connection to your nonprofit are also more likely to donate again in the future.

Direct mail appeals also have a unique potential to help your nonprofit improve its donor retention rates. According to Qgiv’s donor retention formula, the average donor retention rate hovers around 40-45%, which means your nonprofit likely spends a lot of fundraising resources replacing previous donors. 

Once you know your donor retention goal, consider using direct mail appeals to send: 

  • Memorable documents. Along with fundraising letters and thank you cards, get creative with your outreach by sending your supporters postcards, calendars, and more. These documents aren’t directly aimed at raising funds but can help your nonprofit stay in the back of your supporters’ minds throughout the year. For example, an annual calendar can serve as a gentle reminder for supporters to renew their recurring donation plan or make a donation before the year ends. 
  • Personalized appeals. As previously mentioned, direct mail can make your supporters feel seen and appreciated by your nonprofit. However, addressing them with a “Dear Donor” is never as effective as beginning each letter or card with their name. 
  • Welcome letters. You can get a head start on forming relationships with new donors by creating a series of welcome letters. Formally introducing your nonprofit can help people feel like they are part of a community of supporters making them more inclined to follow up with additional support. 

After decades, thank you cards are still in fashion, too. When your supporters donate, volunteer, attend events, or interact with your nonprofit, send them a thank you card to encourage their continued participation. Check out this guide to learn more about specific types of thank you cards, when and how to send one, and where you can find templates to help you get started drafting your own thank-yous. 

4. Raise money to pursue your mission

At the end of the day, your fundraiser’s purpose will always be to raise donations to fulfill your mission. Sometimes it can seem like pouring time and money into fundraising campaigns distracts from your work, but a lack of revenue can catch up to your mission as you run low on supplies and outreach tools. 

Your nonprofit likely relies on several sources of revenue such as grants, events, and donations. Targeting individual contributions tends to be the most effective nonprofit funding strategy, as 71% of donations come from individuals. It means that personal connections with donors are your nonprofit’s most significant asset for obtaining reliable revenue streams. 

Direct mail has the potential to be one of your nonprofit’s most effective revenue streams with the right investment. Your fundraising letters should take advantage of every tip in this guide to tell an emotional story, forge a personal connection, and encourage supporters to get involved in other fundraising efforts. If your nonprofit needs help with its direct mail campaign, consider reaching out to direct mail service providers for support. Good luck! 


Author: Grant Cobb

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.


Get your free resource in 30 seconds

find a resource


The Kid-Friendly "No Sell" Way


This back-to-school resource is essential for school groups who want to get new fundraising ideas and their budget back on track.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.