By Chris Lenois

Christian Aid Direct Mail image

[Image credit: Flickr user Howard Lake]

With response rates to email solicitations from nonprofits on the decline, the effectiveness of direct mail has become more critical for organizations that rely on fundraising campaigns to achieve their mission. Here are six guidelines to follow to help ensure your requests for support are fulfilled:

1. Focus messaging on results, not the process.

Gary Henricksen of Mailrite recently shared a great story about how the letters he and his wife receive from children they sponsor through Compassion International have ensured their support every month for the past 30 years. “Your donor communications shouldn’t be about how much your organization needs, how much you’ve raised, and what great things your organization is doing,” says Henricksen. “Your donor communications should be about who is being helped and how.”

2.  Establish clear giving options.

New or small organizations in particular tend to shy away from asking for specific donation amounts, worrying that it might exclude individuals of lesser means. But offering a guideline such as, “Your donation of $25 will…,” helps demonstrate the value of your mission, even compelling people who might not be able to reach that level to at least find a few dollars more to send. Larger nonprofits set up levels of giving with various incentives that reward support from donors both great and small.

3. Drive to Web. “The key is to design your direct mail with the knowledge that most people will hold it in their hands for 30 seconds or less,” Joe Garecht writes on The Fundraising Authority. His categorization of direct mail recipients as either “scanners” or “readers” makes the compelling case for organizations to keep their correspondences brief and emphasize a Web URL, where you can round out your appeal with multimedia. The QR codes have made it even easier for people to get to the digital realm and act on their charitable impulses.

4. Timing matters…. but shouldn’t deter you.

Whether it’s the mail glut of the holidays, the financial anxiety of tax time in April, or the indifference to business that accompanies summer vacation, you can always find an excuse not to do a direct mail campaign when looking at a calendar. Base your mailing on what you know about the characteristics of your donor base, not the general population.

5. Quality is more important than quantity.

Every nonprofit has to be budget-minded. While the temptation might be to cast as broad a net as possible in hopes of attracting donors, an eye-catching direct mail piece printed in color on high-quality paper will yield a greater return on investment than a poorly designed one sent to twice as many recipients.

6. … And so is frequency.

We all need reminders from time to time. Mailing multiple appeals to the same recipient increases the likelihood of a response. In Fundraising Success magazine, Steve Maggio of DaVinci Direct recommends sending a reminder within two to four weeks of the original appeal. “The follow-up mailing can employ a smaller, less expensive format than the prior mailing, and could generate up to 70 percent or 80 percent of the original,” writes Maggio.

Chris Lenois is a freelance journalist writing for Vistaprint, a leading provider of custom postcards for nonprofits and businesses worldwide. Chris is a business owner, marketing consultant, and professional writer with credits that include The New Orleans Times-Picayune and Wired.