Should you Limit the Number of Direct Mail?

June 29, 2018

There is not a more contentious issue in fundraising out there than Direct Mail. There are camps that say you aren’t mailing enough, while there are others that say you mail too often. There are camps that say the letter should be longer (i.e. 4 pages) and there are camps that say it should be brief and to the point (i.e. 1 page or less),

In 2014 Grizzard reported some surprising test results. In the test, donors of $500 or more were allowed to limit the number of appeals they’d receive in the coming year. If they didn’t specify otherwise, they’d receive 12 appeals. “Of the 500 in the group, 186 (37%) wrote back and designated the specific mailings they wanted during the next 12-month mailing cycle. Interestingly, the most mailings anyone selected was 3.” The end-of-year results surprised everyone. “The donors who received all 12 mailings gave 35% more than the ones [who’d limited their appeals]. What did the test sponsor learn? ‘I learned that unless a major donor asks to limit his/her mailings, they should stay with the normal cultivation strategy. You never know when something will strike a donor’s fancy. Each appeal is different.’

Truth be told, I personally struggle with the concept of Direct Mail. Maybe it is because the success rate is so low (it is a bit of a numbers game — you usually receive less than 3% response rate). Maybe because it is giving up control — the mail is sent and then you wait for the prospect/donor to react and you have little influence over the outcome. Maybe it is because I am not in the target demographic for Direct Mail (they tend to be older adults — something I have to look forward too, I guess). Maybe it is the cost to raise a dollar (approximately 30₵ to raise a dollar from a donor and $1.25 to raise a dollar from a prospect).

A smart person once told me to basically do the opposite of my instincts when it comes to Direct Mail — longer letter versus shorter letter, more often versus less often, etc.

L’chaim and Happy Canada Day/4th of July