Is there a future for direct mail fundraising?

August 18, 2009

Mark Rovner recently had a thought provoking post on the Sea Change Strategies blog about direct mail fundraising. He poses the long standing question, “Is direct mail fundraising dead?” The answer appears to be that although it’s not dead yet, it may be soon.Direct Mail 2

Particularly interesting is Mark’s position that up and coming donors, Gen-Ys , will likely be averse to direct mail because of its inauthentic approach. I wholeheartedly agree with this prediction. Gen-Ys are a skeptical bunch when it comes to advertising and the like. We’ve seen how the age of social media has forced organizations towards an era of transparency and authentic interaction with stakeholders.  It’s likely that this same authenticity imperative is starting to change our receptiveness to direct mail?

I haven’t done a lot of direct mail writing but when I have, it’s always left me feeling a bit slimy. There are countless resources out there about how to write a successful fundraising letter. When I first began writing direct mail,  I read many of these materials and was gobsmacked at how meticulously calculated these letters are.

Direct mail tactics have been tested to death and there are countless “rules” for the successful template. You should make an ask for money at least three times within the body of the letter, you should always have a “P.S.”, you should always create a sense of urgency for the donation—perhaps as an ’emergency appeal’. The list goes on and on. All of these directives have been shown to improve response rates. As Mark points out in his post, people use this approach because it works. BUT will that continue?

I think direct mail fundraising will, as Mark predicts, morph into an online approach. More and more donors are already avoiding the “return envelope” and are heading to organization websites to make their contributions. In years to come, it’s reasonable to expect the whole process will move online.  Rather than seeing a simple shift to direct email though, I think it’s inevitable that we’ll see other methods of engagement using social networking platforms, which by definition are relationship oriented.

There are certainly benefits to this move to the Web. It’s easier to find  pockets of potential supporters within online platforms, giving organizations a larger pool of individuals receptive to the message. Much easier than targeting postal/zip codes based on broad demographics. It’s also a much less costly and environmentally harmful alternative to thousands of envelopes and stamps.

Over to you. Do you think direct mail has a future?


One Response to “Is there a future for direct mail fundraising?”

  1. Lynda Says:

    Direct mail is a relatively inexpensive fund raising tool that has been extremely successful. ROI is high. My prediction is that organizations will learn to tailor their fund development programs to the demographics of their audience. I think there are probably 15 – 20 profitable years left for direct mail. In Canada, older people give the most. Many seniors still rely on direct mail to help them choose where/when to donate. (I’ve had people phone to tell me they didn’t receive a letter yet and wanted to make their donation–when was I sending their letter.) However, the baby boomer generation loves shopping online, banks online, even searches for partners on line. Those younger than the boomers grew up using cell phones, texting, etc. Smart organizations will continue to send direct mail to their older donors but concentrate on growing on line, email and facebook donations.

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