The Direct Mail Fundraising Debate: Does it Still Work?

by Joe Garecht

Fundraising Mail

One of the biggest current debates among businesses and non-profits regarding marketing and fundraising is whether or not direct mail still works. We’ll get to the statistics in a minute, but first, let’s look at the pros and cons of using direct mail as a means of fundraising:

Pros of Direct Mail

One of the biggest reasons to use direct mail is because it allows you to directly target those you want to target, without wasting money communicating with those who aren’t likely to contribute to your organization. This isn’t true of TV, radio, magazine, newspaper, or almost any other type of mass communication. Direct mail is highly targetable.

Another reason to use direct mail is that it is relatively cheap. You can launch a direct mail campaign for just a few thousand dollars, which is an exponentially lower cost than any other type of mass media.

Finally, direct mail is completely track-able.   We’ll talk more about metrics in a little bit, but know that you can easily track your returns from direct mail to see which pieces are working, and which aren’t… and, you can make changes quickly and cheaply. This is less true in mediums like TV or even online communications.

Cons of Direct Mail

Of course, there are lots of problems and concerns that organizations have with using direct mail. First and foremost among them is the fact that people just don’t use the mail like they used to. Now, people do most of their personal communications online, over the phone, through text-messages, etc. Thus, it is easier for people to say things like, “all I get are bills and junk mail,” and treat your direct mail letter accordingly.

Second, while direct mail is cheap compared to TV and radio appeals, it is much more expensive than using things like e-mail appeals and website fundraising.

Finally, direct mail takes time – you have to write the letters, hone the list, track responses, remove people from your list, change addresses, etc. This requires staff or volunteer time which could be used on other projects within your organization.

The Verdict on Direct Mail

The final verdict on direct mail fundraising, of course, is that it does still work.

Direct mail fundraising is still a very effective way to raise money for non-profit organizations for all of the “pro” reasons above. Even more importantly, statistics show that it still works:

  • In a 2010 non-profit fundraising study called Heart of the Donor, 61% of all people who said they donated to charity in the past year reported making at least one of those gifts through direct mail.
  • Deliver, a United States Postal Service industry trade magazine, recently cited a study they did that showed that consumer purchasing in response to direct mailings was actually trending slightly up, in terms of the number of consumers who purchase things through direct mailings.
  • The 2010 Campbell Rinker Donor Confidence Survey showed that 37% of people who gave to charities online did so because they received a direct mail letter from the charity, looked them up online, and made a donation on the non-profit’s website.

In short – direct mail still works, both for businesses and non-profits. The only question is, how can you make it work in a time- and cost-effective manner for your non-profit organization?

Photo Credit:  Megan

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