Pros and Cons: Direct Mail

With this tried-and-true fundraising method, you first design a direct mail "package." This package includes: a letter asking for support, an enclosure (such as a brochure) describing your organization, a reply device (usually a postage-paid return envelope), and an outer envelope in which to mail all these things. Don't skim over that last item, because getting people to open your envelope in the first place may be the biggest obstacle of all.

Next, decide on an audience for your message, and find a mailing list targeting that audience. You may put together your own list, rent one from a broker, or trade your donor list with another organization.

After mailing your direct mail piece, keep careful records of the response. You will want to mail to the same list a number of times.


  • It broadens your donor base.
  • You don't need a huge outlay of cash or time to begin.
  • You can start small and work your way up.
  • You can reach a large audience. 


  • It rarely provides big bucks.
  • Increasingly sophisticated donors are demanding ever more sophisticated direct mail treatment.
  • You must be willing to test many different types of mailings and keep meticulous records to show which strategies worked and which didn't.
  • You need to maintain, rent, or buy good lists of prospects.
  • Modern direct mail requires highly selective targeting of prospects and market research.
  • Postage costs keep going up.
  • It's not as easy as it seems to write compelling direct mail copy or to come up with an envelope people will open. 


  • Focus your direct mail letter on how the donor can help others. Appeal to the emotions.
  • Keep in mind that long letters get a better response than short ones.
  • Getting quality service from printers is critical to your mailing's success, but so is keeping costs low. Get bids from at least three printers on every project. But don't sacrifice quality for rock-bottom prices.
  • Be specific about what response you want the donor to make - how much to send and by when. Always include a deadline, and convey a sense of urgency.
  • Personalize your outer envelope as much as possible to increase the likelihood that people will open it.
  • Spend plenty of time creating your reply device. Remember, it's a critical element of your direct-mail package, making it possible for people to send you money!
  • You can raise your average gift by offering a premium when the donor gives $25 or more. But be sure the premium will be valuable to the donor and cost-effective for you to send.
  • Don't send a direct mail message to a group of prospects only once. Send to them at least three times a year, repeating the same message in a slightly different way. During the remainder of the year, send them your newsletter, press releases, and other regular mailings so that they know what you're doing and what remains to be done.
  • Before you mail your fundraising package, do research to discover the best prospects, and be sure you have the right mailing lists.
  • Always thank the donor quickly. And use your thank-you letter to ask for another gift.



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