The information on Direct Mail Fundraising is based on the experience of over 800 direct mail fundraising campaigns in the UK and abroad. For beginners, it should provide a sound introduction. For those with experience, it will hopefully serve as a refresher and source of ongoing reference.

What is direct mail fundraising?

There many different ways of raising money. Events, fun runs, dinners and just about every possible sponsored activity known to humanity. But none of these is as effective as simply asking directly for money.

There are numerous different ways of asking directly for money.

You can do it by phone, if you can get their phone number. And if the person you are calling hasn’t opted out of phone calls through the Telephone Preference Service, doesn’t opt out of your phone calls there and then ( in which case you have to stop immediately and never call again) , is at home when you call and likes discussing donations over the phone. Because of these vagaries, typically, using the phone you will end up actually speaking to only 20 % of your intended contact list.

For small monthly donations you can do it face to face using a PFO (professional fundraising organisation). However, this requires a substantial budget and is, in any case, an uncertain medium due to regulatory pressures and public objection.

For large donations you can fundraise face to face using well placed and influential volunteers to act as your major gifts fundraisers. There are numerous charities which are very successful at this form of fundraising. But recruiting and co-ordinating any group of volunteers is difficult at the best of times. Asking your board of trustees to do this is……..well, try asking, then let me know how you got on! Setting up a group of nontrustee volunteers is probably the best bet, but asking businesspeople to go out asking for large amounts of money is just not easy and takes a lot of time, energy and patience. Then there is direct mail fundraising. I am a strong advocate of direct mail fundraising and have been ever since I wrote my very first direct mail appeal in 1986. Since then I’ve written over 800 different direct mail appeals. What has kept my interest in this extraordinary medium is that I’ve known that each and every one of those 800 appeals

• Asked someone directly for money
• Increased that person’s understanding of the charity
• Did not put the reader under any undue pressure
• Allowed the reader to make up their own mind in the privacy of their home
• Was very easy for the donor to use
• Was tailor made to the donor’s financial circumstances
• Cost very little in relation to the money raised
• Enabled the charities concerned to contact thousands of supporters or prospective supporters in a single campaign lasting just a few weeks
• In some cases, enabled the charities concerned to raise large amounts of emergency funding in a matter of days
• Raised large gifts and smaller gifts alike
• Raised hard to get, unrestricted core funding
• Left the donor feeling good and happy to give again soon.

But there is an advantage to direct mail fundraising that surpasses even this list of benefits. It is that, once created and well maintained, a database of willing, knowledgeable and interested donors who have chosen the mail as their preferred medium of support will come to be one of the charity’s greatest assets in fundraising. This is because those donors will be there, year in year out, month in month out, happy to lend their support when asked.

So, what is direct mail fundraising? It is asking someone directly for money by mail send to their home address.

How effective is direct mail fundraising?

Without taking more than a moment to think about it, I can call to mind the following campaigns which help to answer the question:

A financial emergency
An arthritis charity which had suddenly suffered a halving of their legacy income – a reduction of over £200,000 over 3 months. The charity relied on legacy income to cover its core costs. Because of the crisis, consultations were under way as to whether half of the staff would be laid off or whether all staff would suffer a 50% pay cut until things improved.

We suggested an alternative remedy – an emergency appeal by direct mail. 20,000 letters were sent to previous donors asking them to rally to the cause. £140,000 in donations were received in just 3 weeks. No layoffs or pay cuts happened and the charity gained time to re-group.

Covering running costs
A small equine rescue and welfare charity needed to raise a guaranteed £10,000 per month to cover all running costs. It had struggled for years, living hand to mouth and somehow surviving from the uncertain income from a small number of charity shops it operated.
We suggested building
a database of direct mail donors who could enable the charity to meet its running costs in a predictable and secure way. 18 months later the charity was receiving £15,000 a month from donations and had a healthy database of donors who committed to animal welfare.

A special opportunity
A plant conservation charity had the opportunity to buy a valley in the Derbyshire Peak district that was a unique and unspoilt habitat and home to several rare and threatened species. An direct mail appeal was sent to its list of 10,000 members who sent over £90,000 in donations. The valley was bought and is now in safe hands.

The point behind these case histories is that in each case there probably was no other feasible way to raise the money in the time available.

In each case, direct mail proved itself to be the most effective way to raise the money needed.

Will direct mail benefit every charity?

As I will emphasise many times in this publication, direct mail is a very specific – and I think special – medium.

To make it work to its fullest potential, a number of particular factors have to be working in your favour. In particular, direct mail is a highly “visual” medium. It works best when the readers can visualise for themselves the moment when their money made a difference. This means that it favours charities whose work delivers an outcome which can be portrayed in words and pictures that can come together to form a “mind picture” of that moment.
In my experience, given a little imagination, most charitable endeavours can be presented in this way. But I would expect that charities whose work involves a slow and lengthy process ( such as social work with adults for example ) would find it more difficult to meet the specific needs of the medium.

How to decide if your charity can benefit.

Here’s a brief checklist to help you assess if direct mail will work for you.

Does your cause have a target supporter market you can readily identify? Yes/No

If not, is your cause one which is of universal interest? Yes/No

Does the work of your charity produce an outcome which a prospective donor can visualise? Yes/No

Can you express this outcome as a strong Direct mail fundraising proposition? Yes/No

Can you afford to spend up to £30 to acquire each donor? Yes/No

Are your trustees and other key figures committed to adopting direct mail as a key fundraising medium? Yes/No

If you have answered “yes” to at least 4 of these questions, then your charity probably has the basics in place to take advantage of direct mail fundraising. And you are ready to go to the next chapter and begin exploring the 7 Keys to Success in Direct Mail Fundraising.