Getting Started
in Direct Mail

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Direct mail is an effective way to build and expand your donor base because it enables your organization to communicate directly to your target audience, identify supporters, and cultivate long-term relationships.   So how do you start a direct mail program? Before you make a large financial commitment, it pays to do a few things well:

  1. Create a “Calendar of Communication” to identify all the ways you are currently communicating with donors or prospects (mail, telephone, email, etc.) and establish a schedule for mailings.
  2. Evaluate the effectiveness of your existing communications. Do your current communications simply report on activities or do they connect donors with your organization’s larger vision and inspire them to become involved?
  3. Distribute a high-quality quarterly newsletter and include a reply envelope.  The articles should remind donors of how their contribution is being used to fulfill the mission and vision of your organization. Also use the newsletter as a tool to recognize donors and offer recipients an opportunity to send donations.
  4. Thank donors promptly. Most of the time, we pay more attention to mailing an appeal than we do on thanking the people that end up donating. Make it a goal to thank donors upon receipt of their gifts, ideally within a week or less. Don’t forget to include IRS receipts for gifts of $250 or more so that donors have their required records at tax time.
  5. Mail a year-end thank you letter to all donors, prospects, board members, and volunteers.  Update them on the organization’s progress and give them the chance to donate again.

Today’s Tip: Start Small, Be Consistent

Start small and be consistent when establishing a direct mail program.  Regular communication is very important because it enables donors to share in the organization’s progress and plan their giving more efficiently.  The most successful direct mail programs engage donors throughout the year with a mix of both appeals and relationship-building mailings.

Ask Ann

Dear Ann: Our organization has a small budget; how do we get started in direct mail?

Answer: Once you’ve mastered the steps outlined above, develop a realistic budget. This may include state registration costs, list rental, copywriting, production, and postage. You can save money on list rentals by compiling your own prospect list using event attendees, people you meet, and lists from board members. Or consider asking a like-minded organization for a one-time use of their names to help you get started.  Regardless of the size of your direct mail program, remember that it will require a consistent investment of time and money. Above all, be patient. A successful direct mail program is built over time.

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Sources for Success

For more ideas on fundraising letters and direct mail programs, please visit the Mal Warwick Associates web site.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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