Direct mail fundraising is one of the most misunderstood channels for donor outreach in the fundraising sector. Ironically, it is also proven year after year to be the most effective, well-received, and responded-to form of contact.

After doing proper research and crafting a detailed fundraising strategy, an effectively planned direct mail campaign has the potential to reach a large group of people and lay the foundation for personal, long-term relationships with supporters. It also, to the surprise of many, works well for breaking through the digital clutter and getting supporters of all ages and walks of life to donate to your cause.

However, direct mail strategies tend to get a bad rap in the fundraising space, and many people continue to hold a number of misinformed beliefs. At GivingMail, we’ve seen the power of direct mail fundraising firsthand, and we’d like to debunk a few of the most-held ideas about the shortcomings of this strategy. Specifically, we’ll cover the following widely held, yet untrue beliefs:

  1. Direct mail is an outdated strategy
  2. Direct mail only targets older generations
  3. Direct mail is too pricey
  4. Direct mail has low response rates
  5. Direct mail is only for major donors

The many myths about direct mail may be prevalent, but they certainly are not true. When you start to have a better understanding of the true power of direct mail fundraising, you open up your organization for better marketing and communication going forward. Let’s get started!

1. Direct mail is an outdated strategy.

With the huge shifts to virtual fundraising strategies, many mistakenly believe that direct mail efforts are being left behind. The truth, however, is that while it has been around for generations, the ongoing success of direct mail marketing campaigns is why these tactics continue to be used by the world’s largest charitable organizations. That’s because direct mail yields significantly higher response rates and levels of interaction relative to any other kind of direct marketing.

With all the time spent on mobile devices and new technology, getting a letter on your doorstep is an excellent way to break through the digital clutter and make your organization and its mission stand out. People ignore countless emails every day, but with a tangible piece of mail, it is harder to be overlooked. 

If you do choose to campaign virtually, each platform provides different benefits that may yield great returns for your cause. Keep in mind, however, that easier and cheaper does not mean better. Direct mail can also be a fantastic strategy for complementing your new digital efforts, as standing out in the fundraising sector is imperative to meeting your goals. Luckily, direct mail campaigns are certainly a powerful way to make your cause stand out among the digital storm of information people see on a daily basis.

2. Direct mail only targets older generations.

While some people think direct mail is only effective for older generations, experts know that millennials and Gen Z also enjoy getting physical mail—meaning this communication strategy can encourage donations from all age groups. And the statistics speak for themselves: Studies show that 93% of all respondents prefer receiving mail than an email or a different form of digital outreach.

With that said, there are certain tendencies that can help you successfully market to these younger generations. For example, millennials like to receive frequent updates regarding what their money is really being used for, and they are interested in donating monthly for a sense of continued support. And, as we know, they prefer getting a real piece of mail as opposed to a digital appeal.

Here are some statistics that can better prove these points:

  • 42.2% of direct mail recipients either read or scan the mail they get.
  • Direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than email.
  • Direct mail recipients spend 28% more money than people who don’t get that same piece of direct mail.
  • Direct mail offers a 29% return on investment. 
  • 73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted via direct mail.

As you begin to maximize donations, it is important to have a really good donor management system in place as well—also known as your CRM. This software specializes in turning supporters into donors. This is important because we know that younger generations, in particular, are quick to support a wide variety of causes, but you need to stand out in order to be one of the few they contribute to.

3. Direct mail is too pricey.

Another common objection to direct mail fundraising is the high price point for each appeal you send.

While direct mail tends to be a pricier option than its digital counterparts, the ROI is extremely high, making it a beneficial and worthwhile choice. For example, response rates for direct mail is about 5%. While this may not seem like much, it is nearly eight times higher than other forms of outreach, including email, online ads, and telemarketing. With higher response rates, you also get a far greater return on your investment. This means that while you do pay a higher upfront cost, you get more out of your money and higher net donation totals than any other form of marketing or fundraising.

Plus, you can send out direct mailings for a lower cost with a direct mail platform. For example, GivingMail, a dedicated direct mail fundraising platform, has structured cost models that show how much you are paying. With a low-cost provider like this, you can actually send out your appeals for less than it would cost to buy ink, envelopes, and stamps on your own.

4. Direct mail has low response rates.

While some people believe direct mail is ineffective, it actually has one of the highest conversion rates out of fundraising channels and can be a fantastic stewardship tool. Direct mail marketing is a great way to spread your message to a wide variety of people, and it is the best form of marketing to convert your recipients into long-lasting contributors to your cause.

These high response rates provide a tremendous upside for your cause. Once the interaction between nonprofit and recipient begins, the ability for the nonprofit to convert this into a consistent contributor increases.

5. Direct mail is only for major donors.

While some people believe direct mail is only worth it for major donors, it’s actually a fantastic way to communicate with and solicit donations from small and mid-level donors as well. Because of the potential for massive mailings, the small- and medium-level donations really begin to add up quickly. This way, the fundraising organization tends to fare very well in terms of net donations—far better than digital marketers alone.

Plus, reaching out to your donors of all giving levels is a very valuable effort to keep them feeling positive about your cause. Statistics show that major charities failed to send a personal thank you to about 70% of their large-level donors—and the number is far greater for their mid to small contributors. Fixing this communication issue will help keep every donor engaged for years to come.

Ensuring you express your gratitude to the people that support you is an absolute must. While it is the courteous thing to do, it also provides an additional moment of contact that you can use to promote future giving opportunities and ways to get involved.

Year in and year out, direct mail marketing continues to show it is the premier way to fundraise for your nonprofit. The response rates, return on investment, and engagement benefits are the driving factors to its long-tenured success. With that said, there are still misconceptions about direct mail that should be explained and debunked when possible.

Even in a tech-driven world, direct mail still is the outreach method of choice by the recipient. And while it is more expensive than digital efforts to get started, you are far more likely to make your money back through a mail campaign than any other form of outreach. Good luck!

This guest post was contributed by Grant at GivingMail.

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.