Ensuring Your Direct Mail Gets Opened

While listening to Tom Ahern’s conversation in 100 Donors in 90 Days, he mentioned that he thought most donors who receive direct mail pieces are 70-80% for or against a potential donation before they read your letter. I decided to conduct a focus group on myself by considering recent pieces that I have received. And I discovered that he might be onto something when it comes to ensuring your direct mail gets opened.

When I get a bunch of direct mail, I collect one stack of envelopes that go straight into recycling. Then, there are some that I open because they have return address labels or a nickel attached (I can’t throw away money, can I?) but the rest of the contents end up in the paper bin. And then, there is the pile that I open because I am interested in the charity. These letters, I read as a potential donor and as a fundraising professional who appreciates a good letter (and saves the best in a file in my office). Opening the envelope does not guarantee that I am ready to make a gift today or that I will even give to the charity but it does mean in my mind that I am considering the donation.

So how does that translate into ensuring your envelopes get opened?

Track your statistics.

Most organizations keep records of the response rate for direct mail pieces. But, not everyone goes back to see which “packages” received the highest or lowest response rate and to determine what works best for your nonprofit. Print out the last few years of letters and see what you can uncover to market to your specific audience.

Write an amazing letter.

Maybe everyone tries to write an amazing letter.  But a lot of people are just getting something out by a deadline.  That 70-80% chance will improve when you answer the questions as to why I should give to you, why I should give now, and why I, the reader, am special to this organization (Tom Ahern gives a lot of great suggestions). But, it will jump dramatically higher when it is written in a way that makes me smile, sniffle, nod my head or respond in some personal way. Because that means the letter solidified the connection and reminded me of why I should be giving to the organization.

You can learn the language of direct mail from books, webinars or consultants. But, if your nonprofit is as unique as you hope it is, then your letters should be original and the focus of a my potential gift should jump off the page.

Consider your lists carefully.

Response rates on purchased lists are incredibly low (Tom mentioned that he has found the current average to be ¼ of a percent). That is, usually, hard to justify for a small or mid-size agency. A large agency might consider it, but it hardly seems efficient or highly effective.

Instead, gather information from anyone and everyone who comes through your doors, comes to your website, or engages in your social media campaigns. Use traditional tactics like raffles and information sign up sheets, current trends like incentives to “like” you on Facebook or follow you on twitter and personal connections like asking guests at an event to fill out a card or volunteer interest form. Any list you create from people already connected with your agency will improve your response rates dramatically.

Figuring out your best strategy is not always easy, but once you do, improving your financial results will be a piece of cake.

To learn more about 100 Donors in 90 Days click here.