8 Don’ts for Direct Mail Fundraising

March 19th, 2013 by

I wrote this article about the 8 dont’s for direct mail fundraising because sometimes the best way to move forward is to simply provide a list of things that simply don’t work. While most of my posts and articles focus on what non-profits should be doing, this gives you some hard and fast examples of what not to do.

Here are 8 Dont’s for direct mail fundraising:

Don’t think you are the target audience. Meet the donors where they are, rather than where you think they are or wish they were. Make it easy for donors to financially support programs that they are passionate about. Not programs that you (or your program people) wish donors were passionate about.

Don’t cut acquisition quantity to improve fundraising ratios. If you cut back on acquisition, you’ll have fewer current donors to cultivate next year. This will start a downward revenue spiral that’s difficult to reverse. At the same time, don’t simply plug in last year’s numbers into your budget for this year. You will be doing your agency a disservice.

Don’t be lazy. It’s not worth all the time, money, blood, sweat and tears we invest to acquire new donors if we’re not going to cultivate them right. Thank them. Segment them carefully. Thank them. Be relevant to them. Thank them. Show them the significance of their gifts. Don’t let that file go cold. Reactivate them. Always think retention. Thank them again. Stewardship counts.


Don’t let brand dictate fundraising messages instead of mandating that brand reinforce fundraising messages. It’s not about your logo- it’s about your promise. Branding about your tone. Make sure that everything “matches”. This includes photos, copy, brand promise and tone.

Don’t be seduced by a consultant who claims to be able to acquire “higher value donors” and passes over the lower and mid-range value donors. You will and ending up getting too few donors to sustain your organization. You need a program that acquires those higher value donors plus all the other donors. Today’s “little guy” can be tomorrows major gift.

Don’t chase blindly after the next big thing. The fear of being left behind can cause us to leap before we look. Many agencies thought they were going to save on expenses and make their fund raising goals by focusing on social media. While we know that social media can help us “friend-raise”, direct mail is still the #1 source for dollars.

Don’t forget to test. Why would anyone abandon a control for something new without testing? Maybe these people are afraid to be proven wrong. Perhaps because testing is difficult, or costs more. Maybe they just can’t imagine that their idea could fail. Always test.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Everyone loves a menu. You need different offers based on your products. These include annual programs, regular giving, middle-donor campaigns, major gifts, capital campaign, gifts-in-kind, and government funding. Be aware of the different audiences and different channels (digital, mail, DRTV, face-to-face, radio, events).

Let’s face it, fund raising is challenging. I always counsel that fund raising is not an event, but a well-thought out series of “touches”, in a variety of ways, to reach the target audience.