Covering the Basics: A Direct Mail Primer

Brickmill Marketing Services knows fundraising channels are cluttered - want to get started but need tips? Read on.

Achieving your mission in today's global arena can be a complex challenge. Fundraising channels are increasingly cluttered by appeals from a growing number of organizations with divergent missions. A wealth of corporate and philanthropic organizations taking advantage of the direct-mail channel makes for a rich marketplace where consumers have access to unprecedented amounts of information and new outlets for their financial resources.

This variety, however, results in stiff competition for the attention of your target audience. Competition and the quest for higher responses from direct-mail campaigns continue to be the driving forces behind innovations in the industry.

At Brickmill Marketing Services, we know that each component of the direct-mail package--whether it is the envelope, letter itself or the reply materials--is valuable real estate on which you can build successful communications. In addition, premium-driven direct-mail packages can make a world of difference by greatly expanding the capabilities of direct mail to help you achieve your fundraising and organizational objectives. Using these tools can give your organization a stable financial foundation with a more predictable flow of income.

The rewards of direct mailing are evident through response rates and increasingly larger gifts, ending up with a legacy or planned gift. To get there, however, requires careful management and consideration of the direct mail product. The following tips can help you maximize your return when fundraising and marketing.

Cultivation and Acquisition

In the fundraising process, building a relationship with your donors relies on a gradual process of informing donors of your mission. Of course, relationships can be cultivated through continuing communication, and year-round mailings and constant reminders help create a strong bond. Annual gift giving through annual campaigns can help donors find yearly patterns to their contributions. Holiday appeals have proven to be one of the most generous giving times of the year. A membership package is an example of an annual appeal where donors can feel directly involved in the mission of your organization year after year.

Acquisition involves engaging and embracing new donors in hopes of growing new relationships. It is crucial to continue to acquire new donors and to expand your donor base to ensure your continued success. Targeted names can be acquired through a credit-list brokerage company. Organizations choose to acquire or exchange information on donors whose characteristics mirror those of your donor base. Strategically choosing your lists based on prior contribution history and typical donor demographics can prove to be an extremely profitable investment. Poorly targeted lists can result in frustration and a large dent in your finances.

Be sure to choose appropriate lists, and only use a percentage of the total quantity of the list. List brokerage companies should always guide you through the process of picking and choosing lists, percentage of usage of each list and characteristics of the typical donor in each file. Keep your list updated and make sure that the list rental brokerage company's file is updated so that you can gauge the performance of both lists. Remember to test your lists in order to get a better idea of how well the lists of your choice performed.

The Direct-Mail Package

Once you know whom you are targeting, you should think about the anatomy of your package. One key aspect to consider is premiums, which can do much more than just get the attention of your audience. Premiums are a small gift to your prospects or donors and can yield better responses when compared with straight appeals. The strategic use of premiums offers an additional opportunity to make an impact with your audience.

The personalization previously employed on letters and reply materials extends to premiums as well. Personalization will awaken sentiments of involvement with your donors and make them feel as if your organization knows who they are. With this small and inexpensive detail you will leave a lasting impression with your audience and your appeal is less likely to end up in the recycling bin. However, it should be noted that if straightforward appeals are working well for your organization with certain donors, than you should consider avoiding premiums for those donors until the response rate changes.

If you think direct mail is limited to simple letters carried through the mail, you may be missing out on a wide variety of opportunities to connect with your audience. Color, personalization, and the feel of your materials and premiums give direct mail the third dimension it needs to break away from the ordinary. Today's modern manufacturing strategies make stronger communications possible at costs that truly justify the investment. Even premium packages in a variety of carriers (boxes, bags, Styrofoam, tubes, special envelopes and more) can be produced at costs low enough to significantly raise your bottom line.

Getting the Right Amount

Then, of course, there is 'the ask.' The entire package should revolve around asking the recipient for money. Modern databases and list technologies provide innovative ways to structure your variable gift array table or your fixed ask units. Laser technology makes it possible to ask a $20 donor to give '$20, $25 or even $50' and to ask the $100 donor to give '$100, $150 or even $200.'

You should formulate your gift array table depending on the donor's Highest Past Contribution (HPC). If you have a high-dollar-gift donor file, than you can choose to make your lowest ask amount in the package to begin with his or her HPC and the following amount will be a multiple of the HPC. If it is a low-dollar-gift donor file, then you can choose to make your lowest ask amount the donor's HPC and the rest of the ask amounts will be additions to the HPC.

Always keep track of the donor's contribution history in case you find a windfall. If you see an unexpected large donation, consider that your donor may have come into an unusual financial circumstance that allowed him or her to donate a one-time large amount. In this case, you should use the HPC as the middle amount, a lower number as your first ask amount and a higher number than his or her HPC unit as the third.

Managing the many facets of a direct-mail campaign can seem overwhelming. However, with the right information and resources like the Brickmill Marketing Services team,  direct mail is a cost-effective way to recruit donors while communicating the mission of your organization with unprecedented reach. Because direct mail is closer to the bottom of the donor pyramid, it will give you access to donors whom you can invite to become part of your campaigns or fundraising dinners, and will provide your organization with annuity contributions, legacies, wills and bequests. Major gifts, planned gifts and bequests still stand high on top of the donor pyramid, but you will never get to them if you do not start by reaching large numbers of people at the bottom through direct mail.

Contact Brickmill Marketing Services at