October 22, 2018
 
Integrate High-Dollar Direct Mail into Your Fundraising Program

Nonprofits that shy away from soliciting major donations via direct mail need to reassess their approach to fundraising, a point persuasively made by Raising $1,000 Gifts By Mail , which then lays out how to do it step by step.

The first thing nonprofits should do, according to author Mal Warwick, an internationally respected fundraising pro with nearly four decades of experience, is toss out widely held beliefs about direct mail fundraising. They include thinking in terms of 1% response rates, focusing on fundraising costs instead of cost-effectiveness, believing that Millennials automatically reject direct mail, and failing to put the donor at the center of your fundraising universe.

High-dollar direct mail typically costs more to produce on a per-piece basis—"Five dollars per package? You've got to be kidding! Our board will never approve that."—but it typically returns more dollars per dollar spent.

Nonprofits also fall short, Warwick argues, by treating fundraising, marketing, and communication functions as independent silos. That has the result of dispersing high-dollar donors in different departments where they get lost between the cracks, making high-dollar direct mail campaigns impossible to manage.

Warwick pulls no punches. High-dollar direct mail fundraising requires understanding donors as individuals, and then treating them that way. It also builds on an ongoing membership or small-donor fundraising program. Absent these commitments, nonprofits won't succeed winning large gifts via direct mail.

Most essentially, high-dollar direct mail forms a bridge that links your membership or small-donor program with your work to encourage major gifts and legacies, he writes.

Greater competition for donors' dollars and public skepticism about the efficiency and effectiveness of nonprofits have led to lower response rates, which is why "wise fundraisers" think in terms of long-term donor value and its relationship to acquisition cost, according to Warwick.

Long-term value encompasses a broad array of income producing activities, including direct mail renewals, special appeals, telefundraising, online fundraising, admission fees, merchandise sales, and major gifts and legacies. When measured against long-term value, donor acquisition costs of $20 or more, which traditionally may have put off nonprofit fundraisers, can look like a smart investment.

High-dollar direct mail differs from so-called garden variety direct mail, according to Warwick, in that:
  • The list of prospects or donors must be painstakingly chosen.
  • The case for giving must be compelling and tailored to high-dollar donors.
  • The appeal must be packaged in a truly engaging way.
  • You must follow up.
What makes this highly readable, 103-page primer especially valuable are the comprehensive examples Warwick uses to illustrate his points, with details on envelope size, shape, and color, whether to use mailing labels and, if so, what type, how to structure the appeal letter and the format it should take, and how to think about the reply envelope.

Does it work? The fact that the overwhelming majority of high-dollar donors started as low-dollar direct mail donors proves they are responsive to direct mail, Warwick writes.

Raising $1,000 Gifts By Mail is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
May 2017


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