Today I’m pleased to introduce David Hazeltine. David and I met at an NEAHP conference a couple years back and immediately hit it off. Since he works with DMW Direct Fundraising, I’ve asked if he’d share his insights into direct mail fundraising. Check out his blog at No Green Bananas.


by David Hazeltine

The higher education arena is one of our primary vertical markets and, for a number of years now, we have engrained ourselves in the fundraising programs of a variety of institutions nationally. While alumni don’t have to be educated on the institution, like all other nonprofits, they have to be educated on the mission of an annual fund, and why it is important for them to give back. The majority of them feel that they ‘owe the school nothing’ – as they paid (and may still be paying for) their tuition. So here are five important lessons we have learned (and, of course, you should test, test, test, before you run with any of these):

  1. People love to “get free stuff” in the mail; front-end freemiums and back-end premiums work – period. Offering low-cost items, and asking for moderate gifts results in increased response in acquisition, higher lapsed donor re-capture, and increased retention of active donors. And yes, “premium-acquired” donors often require to be “premium-renewed” – but so what? Send or offer them another goody (with your logo/brand on it) next year, too – and ask them for their renewed support and an upgrade – and you’ll likely get both!
  2. Direct mail fundraising is more successful with multi-part campaigns rather than one-drop mailings. One or even two follow-ups or reminders – mailed from 30-45 days after your initial appeal – will often bring in 50% of the response of your initial mailing. And do invest the money in that first appeal, and use economical formats for your follow ups/reminders. The initial package makes an impression, but the reminders are often what do the work!
  3. Direct mail should drive online giving. It’s no secret that online giving nets a higher average gift (often 30% higher). But so many direct mail pieces only mention online giving as an option – rather than encouraging it. Time and again, direct mail packages that fully highlight the online giving option – and how the organization benefits from it – combined with a dedicated, easy-to-use web site, result in 15-25% of your overall mail responses. And who wouldn’t want that portion of your respondents giving 30% more money? (Additional tip: Offer them a back-end premium as an incentive for giving online only.)
  4. People will give multiple gifts within a calendar or fiscal year – but you have to ask! While there are numerous organizations out there using this strategy, we meet so many higher education and other nonprofit professionals that are leery about asking for even a second gift, if the donor has made a gift within the past twelve months. “Asking twice” doesn’t just work for the $5 and $10 donor groups – it works with higher dollar gifts too. So, make sure your good stewardship practices are in place and then go ahead and test it.
  5. A four-color envelope with a two-color letter pulls better than a two-color envelope with a four-color letter. Well, not necessarily! But…the envelope is your recipient’s first impression – the one thing that catches their attention in that three seconds that they spend deciding whether or not to add your mail piece to this week’s recycling pile. Test odd-size, multi-window, full-color envelopes and watch your responses climb – it will get the recipient inside your mail package, and find all those other great components that you’ve carefully created.

Those are David’s five. What has your experience been?

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