1. Balance your touchpoints

The easiest fix to unsuccessful direct mail campaigns is the number of touchpoints.  If you send too much mail, you will lose donors because they get overwhelmed.  But if you don’t send enough, your donors will forget about you and your cause.  It’s a fine line we all have to walk.  We recommend mailing 3-6 times a year. 

Now hold on.  I know that sounds scary.  Think about it this way: four mailers a year is one mail piece per quarter; six mailers a year is one mail piece every other month.  Not too bad if you break it down that way.

No all of those 3-6 mailers should be great pieces.  Try mailing one or two nice pieces and supplement with simpler ones.  It’s helpful to mix up pieces.  Send a letter now and an oversized postcard next time.  You don’t exactly want to keep donors guessing (everyone values consistency), but make it interesting.  If your mail always looks the same, it’s much easier to ignore.  Donors might think they know what’s inside already. 

2. Print in full color

Direct mail typically gets about 5% response rate from current donors.  That means that for every 100 letters you send out, only five people will respond.  It might sound bleak, but it’s actually pretty good.  (If you want to talk about acquisition mail campaigns, then that’s a totally different story.  Check out our blog post on that here.)

How can you improve that?  Targeted 1:1 mail pieces do 50% better.  The response rate increases by 135% with personalized, full-color pieces.  If you add sophisticated data to that—for example, the exact amount that each person donated last year—the response rate increases by 500%.  

In other words, the devil’s in the data.

3. Manage + segment your database

73% of firms aspire to be data-driven, but only 29% actually are.  So how can you join that 29%? Managing your donor database is the first step.  You have to keep updated lists.  Frequently purge duplicates, long-lapsed donors, deaths, and opt-outs. 

You really have to know your donors.  But when you have thousands of them, it’s not so easy.  Consider attaching a survey to your next mail piece and ask for mail/communication preferences.  The trick here is to remember to update your lists accordingly.  You can also train your staff that answer phones to ask questions about communication preferences. 

Segmented lists drive data mail.  For example, monthly donors should be handled and thanked differently than once-annual donors, and both different from tax donors. You can organize your donors by gift amount and then funnel them into sections.  Then treat those donors differently. 

The most commonly used monetary segments: $0-99, $100-249, $250-499, $500-999, and $1000.  But there’s also tax givers, monthly donors, once-annual donors, cause donors, fundraisers, and event-based donors. 

Caution: It’s easy to delve too deep and lose your mind.  Data isn’t the same as knowledge.  Before you create 1,000 different categories, try organizing by monthly, annual, and tax givers.  Handle that data well before you move forward with monetary segments.   

*data provided by nonprofitsource.com: The Ultimate List of Charitable Giving Statistics, https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/