Starting a
Direct Mail Program

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Direct mail is a cost-efficient and effective way to identify a large number of prospective donors for your cause. It also allows you to:

Build and cultivate long-term relationships with supporters
• Identify prospective major donors for future follow-up
• Raise awareness about your organization
• Promote your organization in the region

Embarking on a direct mail program is a serious commitment for any organization. It is not merely a one-time mailing, but an involved process that requires preparation and planning. Before you make this investment, there are several factors to consider in determining whether your organization is ready to start a direct mail program.

Have you developed a 3-5 year strategic plan? As part of this plan, have you have tracked your current sources of income (e.g. foundation, corporate, or individual) and have you identified a need for increased support from individuals?

Do you have a strong desire to increase income and build a larger network of supporters? You want to broaden your base of support and you must be ready to follow up on the major donors you identify.

Are your senior management and/or Board of Directors committed to direct mail? To prepare and sustain a direct mail program, you need to be very committed to the work it will entail. Even if you use outside vendors, you will have to approach this as a new program that will require time and resources.

Have you developed a strong case for support that addresses why your organization is unique and why your work is important? When it comes to preparing an actual letter you will need to identify a problem you are trying to solve, your solution to the problem, your strategy for solving the problem, and the benefits to the contributor if he supports you.

Do you understand that it will take 18-24 months to recoup your investment? Most organizations lose money on their prospecting programs so you need to budget accordingly.

Have you developed a comprehensive budget? This includes the costs of internal staff to manage the project, state registration fees, a copywriter, mail house services, list rental, postage, etc.

Do you have a functioning database? Your database (whether it’s a fundraising program, contact management system, or Excel file) is able to capture relevant contact and gift information for each donor.

Do you have the ability to prepare and mail an appropriate, personal thank you letter within 24-48 hours of a gift? The first step to your next gift is through the thank you letter so these letters should mail promptly with a proper IRS receipt.

Have you developed a “calendar of communication” for the next 12 months? It is helpful to develop a table which lists all the mailings you have planned, including both fundraising appeals and relationship-building materials.

Have you developed a plan to secure suitable lists? Ensure that the lists you use contain active direct mail donors; you have the right amount of names; you have the appropriate dollar select for your package; you have made a list of organizations that are similar to yours which you will approach for lists.

Do you already produce regular communications to your donors or contacts? Successful direct mail programs are those in which donors receive regular communication. You will be well-prepared for this if you already have experience in communicating regularly with donors or contacts through mailings such as newsletters.

Are you prepared to track the results of each mailing including cost, response, income, and average gift? It is also important to code your lists properly in order to measure your results.

Have you lined up vendors? Ask other groups for recommendations of copywriters, mail house services, and list brokers.

Do you have a staff member or consultant whose main duty is to handle direct mail? Direct mail can be time-consuming; consider tapping into outside help.

If you already have individual donors, have you done some basic surveys to understand what motivates their giving? Why do donors give you to you now? Understanding what motivates them will help as you reach out to new prospects.

Have you met or spoken with other organizations who are successfully engaged in direct mail? Other similar organizations will be a good source for vendor recommendations, suggestions and ideas.

Sources for Success

Revolution in the Mailbox by Mal Warwick

Writing Fundraising Letters by Mal Warwick

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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