mail fundraising brings nonprofit organizations millions of dollars
of gifts every year, and the numbers continue to grow. It has
evolved into a highly refined art, if not a science. These steps sum
up the basic principles used by the most successful nonprofits in
their fundraising mailings.
Ask People To Give Money To Help Others
no reason to give money for a building if you think the building
will stand permanently uninhabited and unseen. But a building in
which people will be helped - that building has purpose. People only
give to people and when you’re asking for money by mail, it’s
essential to create a link between the people you want to help and
the donors who will do the helping.
Be Specific About What You Need
people give, they want to know exactly what good their hard-earned
dollars will produce. It’s your job to tell them, the results you
hope to achieve with their support.
Quantify The Gift Amount You Request
if it seems contrived to you, your appeal will be more effective if
you can honestly tell your donors that $25 will provide a one-day
scholarship. And don’t hesitate to ask for precise multiples of
the $25 request. High-dollar donors respond well to this approach,
sending in checks for $2,500 to help provide 100 days of camp
scholarships. Quantification makes your request believable and
implies that you’re not asking for a penny more than you really
Use A Deadline Whenever Possible
gives a sense of urgency as effectively as a specific date. If the
funds are needed by June 1st, say so. Reiterate the date throughout
the letter and on the reply form. Urge the donor to respond before
that date passes.
Help Your Donors Identify With Recipients
Your appeal must forge an emotional bond between the potential
donor and the recipient of that donor’s gift. Tell a story of
someone who benefited from camp.
Use a True Story
When you plan your next fundraising appeal, try to push away the
cobwebs of bureaucracy, burn-out, or habit that keep you at arm’s
length from your cause. Take an hour or two to see your ministry
afresh. Seek out your program staff or volunteers.
Listen to some of their stories about people who have been
touched through your ministry.
Share one of these stories that appalled, terrified, or
inspired you. Use this
in your fundraising letter. These stories are your most valuable
asset when you write a fundraising letter; incorporate them whenever
Take A Cold, Clear Look At Past Fundraising Result
What has worked well for you in the past? Imitate it in the
future. With updates and variations, your most successful appeal can
often be used for years. Analyze your failures: Was your reply
device confusing or incomplete? Was the copy dull? Or was the
problem more subtle? Looking at less obvious failing can lead you to
valuable conclusions. For example, your board’s pet project may
leave your donors cold. Only experience can teach lessons like
these, so don’t turn your back on your “bombs.”
Personalize Your Donor Mail If You Can Possibly Afford It
if you think you can’t afford it, test it once. Often the extra
cost is made up by higher income. If you can’t afford to
personalize, make your package look as personal as you can. Can you
make the letterhead look like personal stationery? Use a “live”
third-class stamp instead of a meter or an indicia? Use a
“hand-written note” to good effect? Most of all, you can make
the copy look hand-typed by using a common typewriter face, by
printing it in black on white or pale pastel paper, and by using a
second color (preferably blue) for signature, “hand” underlines,
and notes. Talk to your graphic artist and printer for more ideas.
Make The Outer (“Carrier”) Envelope As Compelling And
Dramatic As Possible - Or Leave It Blank
If you can afford to send a closed-faced envelope that looks
hand-typed via first class mail, do it - and leave the envelope
unadorned. But if you can’t, do everything in your power to get
the envelope opened some other way. Spend as much time thinking
about the carrier envelope as you do editing letter copy. Write at
least 10 different possible “teasers.” Make the carrier envelope
so intriguing that the recipient can’t ignore it. Put a lot of
first-class creative energy into this, and your chances of getting
the envelope opened are markedly increased.
Try An Unusual Format
If you’ve always mailed No. 10 packages, try a monarch size.
Or switch from a standard monarch to a 6” x 9” package.
Investigate the many exciting forms now becoming standard in the
direct mail marketplace. Format variations may cost more to produce
than your regular package, but a small increase in cost may bring a
large boost in response by recapturing people’s
Pay Careful Attention On Your Reply Device
often we take this part of a mailing for granted. But, because it is
the critical elements of your package - making it possible for
people to send you money - many experts recommend writing the reply
device copy first. Doing so will crystallize your fundraising
request. Make sure the basics are there: your name, address, and
telephone number; restatement of your request and the gift amounts
you want to receive; the donor’s name, address, and code number,
or sufficient space for a label; information on how to make out the
check; tax deductibility information. Make it foolproof. And have
several other people check it before you print it.
Use A Survey To Get The Donor Involved
effective use of a mailing is to ask a person to fill out a survey.
Most organizations have a reason to call public attention to
their concerns at one time or another. When you do this, make the
survey extremely simple to use. Pre-address it. Make your questions
multiple-choice, and don’t ask too many. Keep the whole concept
easy enough for an intelligent 12-year-old to follow - and be sure
to encourage their financial support.
Offer A Thank-You Gift To Your Donor - If It Relates Closely
To Your Organization, The Donor’s Interests, Or The Project At
You can raise your average gift by offering a premium when the
donor gives $25 or more. But be sure the donor will perceive some
value in this item, and be sure you can afford to send it. Used
wisely, a premium - especially when it is sent to the donor with a
thank-you note and a reply envelope - can work very well.
Always Thank The Donor Quickly
It’s easy for overworked staff members to delay sending
thank-you notes. Spend time and money to thank your donors. Your
letter can be short, but it must be warm and personal. It must tell
the person that his or her gift has already been put to work. It
must come from the top person in the organization. And it should
leave your office just as fast as you can turn it around. Gratitude
serves as excellent cement between you and your supporters.
Neglecting your thank-you program is an unforgivable and expensive
Get To Know Your Donors
Open the reply mail and read the donors’ notes. Take their
calls. Go to your organization’s special events. You must know
your donors to make your fundraising effective. How old are they?
What do they care about? Do they have children? Grandchildren? At
the very least, pick up the phone and call a donor, every now and
then, just to say “thank you.”
Send Long Letters
Your staff, your donors, even your friends and family will swear
to you that those four-page letters are too long. It may be true
that nobody reads these letters all the way through, but long
letters almost always evoke a better response than short ones. This
principle has been proven time and time again, and it’s unwise to
ignore the findings of mailers who spend millions of dollars to test
these factors. As a general rule, your donor letters can easily take
up two sides of a monarch-sized page at a minimum. Your prospect
mail should be longer. If you’re convinced that your organization
might be a rare exception to the long-copy rule, test your idea very
conservatively, in small quantities.
Find Good Vendors, And Get Three Bids On Every Project
quality services from printers, computer houses, and lettershops is
critical to your mailing’s success, but so is keeping costs low. Use competitive bidding every time to assure that you’re
getting the best possible price. But don’t sacrifice quality to
get the rock-bottom price. Find a compromise between quality and
economy by using the bidding process, communicating clearly with
vendors and giving them time to do the job correctly. Also, ask for
references and talk to your colleagues to find the best suppliers.
Above All Else, Believe In Your Cause and Respect Your Donor
Direct mail fundraising produces the best results when it
practitioners love their work, operate from a solid ethical
foundation, and infuse their mailings with spirit and conviction.
It’s a fascinating field, with plenty of opportunities for
creativity, excitement, and contributing to positive change. Enjoy
Adapted by Brian Kluth for camps from an article in: Nonprofit
Constance L. Clark of Clark Communications.
Used by permission.
Brian Kluth is a leading spokesperson nationally and
internationally on issues of Biblical generosity. He has ministered
across America and on 5 continents. His written materials have been
distributed to more than 350,000 Christian leaders in more than 100 countries.
additional resources and insights into biblical financial and generosity
matters. He is also the Senior Pastor at the 1st Evangelical Free Church
of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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