Tips for Effective Direct Mail for Nonprofits- Part 1

/, fundraising, Nonprofit/Tips for Effective Direct Mail for Nonprofits- Part 1

Tips for Effective Direct Mail for Nonprofits- Part 1


While many organizations have begun to rely more heavily on online marketing, traditional direct mail is still an important part of a successful marketing mix. A combination of both creates an effective campaign that grabs attention and allows you to contact your target audience more than once through different channels to promote a campaign or event. Any direct mail that you send out should encourage your target to go to your website for more information, where you have the opportunity to provide in-depth, updated content. This could be as simple as a postcard with your web site and Facebook information included on it.

What key factors contribute to a successful direct mail campaign? There are several, including the quality of your mailing list, the offer you make in your communication, strong design, effective copy, the timing of the campaign, and mailing specifications. Additionally, the lead-time you give your designer, the time you build into your schedule for printing and mailing, the type of printing you choose and USPS mailing specifications and costs have a huge impact on the success of your project.

Whether you are new to developing direct mail campaigns or a veteran testing your existing knowledge, the following tips will guide you as you develop your next project.

1. The quality of the mailing list you use has an impact on success.

Whether your organization has compiled a database or you purchase lists from other organizations or list services, the more carefully your mailing list is matched with your target, the more successful your campaign will be. These purchased mailing lists can be compiled with names that conform to detailed specifications–age, income, number of children, interests, professions and more. The more detailed and precise the list, the more expensive it is. There may be a positive trade-off if that more expensive list results in a well-matched target audience. Your mailing house or printer can provide more information if you are interested in purchasing a list.

2. Your offer is a very important part of selling your campaign.

What are you offering to help induce your target to act? Whether you’re appealing to their charitable nature or offering an interesting fund raising event, an offer can encourage a quicker or more generous response. If you are looking for sponsors, will they receive premier seating, tables or tickets to the event or special recognition? If you are soliciting donations, is there a thank you gift that donors will receive?

Consider offering special recognition. Create an opportunity for exclusive membership with a donation—a Council of Advisors or Executive Circle and send a certificate, preferably framed. Make sure the certificate expires. The year should be prominently displayed on the certificate so an awareness is developed that the opportunity to renew the honor will present itself again.

Mention the offer three times throughout your communication and repeat it in a PS. Studies show that the P.S. is the first thing many readers will read, making it a critical part of your content. Don’t forget to tell your reader exactly what you want them to do to take advantage of your offer—visit the website to register and pay, return the registration card with a check—make it clear and easy to complete that action.

3. Design should support the message, not be the message.

Remember that the design and copy need to support your message, not overwhelm it. The piece needs to break through the clutter of everyday mail and distractions, interrupt what your target is doing and win their attention for a few moments. Does your reader understand your offer immediately or are they distracted by unrelated visuals that detract from your message? Stories abound about the clever Super Bowl commercials that entertain but don’t inform. Avoid cleverness for the sake of cleverness.

It might not be a “pretty” piece that gets the job done—pay attention to the direct mail pieces that come through your door. Some effective pieces make use of bold and italic type, underlining and jarring color combinations.

Make sure your reader can easily navigate your content. Would a short, to-the-point piece be right for your project or would a multi-piece packet be more effective?

Consider readability for the visually impaired–make sure your type is large enough to be easily read. Avoid color combinations that are difficult to read‚Äìred or orange on blue, black on darker colors and type reversed out of complicated backgrounds.

Remember that people react strongly to pictures of other people. From studies we know a face is the first thing people notice on a page. If you have an effective photograph that is obviously related to your theme—and you have a signed release from the person/people in the photo and own the rights to it, consider using it for greater impact. If you use a digital photo from an online vendor, make sure you have secured usage rights.

Use your envelopes for more than stamps and addresses. Begin to entice your reader before they open the envelope. Copy on the outside of the envelope can set the tone‚Äîsomething that looks official, like ‚ÄúYour exclusive invitation is enclosed…‚Äù or something guileless and handwritten like, ‚ÄúPlease listen!‚Äù or ‚ÄúHelp!‚Äù.

On the envelope, a handwritten message shouldn’t be longer than a very few words; a printed message shouldn’t exceed two very brief lines and a typewritten lead-in message can be as long as necessary to draw the recipient into your offer. When doing anything different than a standard mailing, including using the outside of the envelope for copy, it’s a good idea to clear the design with the mail piece design consultant at the US Post Office. You can fax your layout or send a mock-up and talk to the mail piece consultant on the phone.

Postal regulations have changed significantly over the last couple of years, with more changes anticipated in the future. Envelope color and labeling are now more strictly regulated by the post office, along with size, weight and flexibility. Include this information, along with your design, when you have it reviewed by your local mail piece design consultant. Remember that this very important step can add two or three days to your production time, but it is time well spent to avoid the expense and embarrassment of having your mail returned because it doesn’t comply with postal regulations.

A note about graphics for your mail pieces

Pay attention to that old printer’s expression, “garbage in/garbage out.” It sounds harsh, but it’s true. If you give your designer or printer a poor quality image to work with, whether it’s your logo or a photograph or any other graphic you’d like to have included in your piece, they may not be able to help you project the quality and professionalism your organization desires. Art for print needs to be between 300 and 600 dpi (dots per inch). That’s high resolution. A graphic for the screen or Web is low resolution and a 72 dpi image is sufficient. But that low resolution graphic cannot maintain its integrity when printed. The resolution cannot be increased to print quality without resizing the image to a size too small to be used. Enlarging the low resolution file results in a fuzzy, pixilated printed image. That’s why your designer can’t just go to your web site and download the logo (or picture) you have there. If an image needs to be increased in size for the finished piece, then it needs to be 600 dpi or higher, depending on the required finished size.

Working with a designer

If your organization decides to develop the piece using an outside designer, it’s very important to build enough time into your project schedule to allow the designer to do good work. That person is juggling several other projects at any given time. Be specific in what you are requesting of the designer so you receive an accurate estimate of the cost for their services. Would you like multiple concepts? Will the designer be supplying the copy? Is this a rush job? Will they be writing the print specs and obtaining bids from printers? If so, be clear on the quantity you require. Will they contact the mail house, if one is required?

If you want a high quality project completed on time, it is important to have all the components of your project ready at the beginning. This includes high resolutions logos for the organization and sponsors, high resolution photographs, complete copy and any lists of names to be included on the piece. If you are not able to supply those things when you initiate the project, make sure the designer is aware of that factor. While last minute edits and additions can be worked into the project, they should be the exception rather than the rule.{{cta(‘c222da97-c5fe-4f16-b0c5-47046e7c79dc’,’justifyright’)}}

Keep in mind that designers and other creatives are approached by many organizations every year requesting discounted or free services. They may not be able to accommodate one more pro-bono or discount client. If you are unable to pay for services, you may need to contact several designers to find one with available time or consider working with a design student. Again, allowing time in your schedule for those complications will give you the most successful outcome.

4. Copy—make your best pitch

The copy should be written with words that resonate with your target audience. Your piece should reflect your knowledge of the frame of reference of your target. Should you consider using other languages in addition to English?

In fundraising copy, appeal to status or guilt. Make sure your reader knows that they were especially chosen. Paint a clear, emotional picture of the needs of your constituents or organization. Replace intellectual words with emotional words and you’ll get a better response.

Some examples:

  • help instead of aid
  • good for instead of beneficial
  • write you instead of contact you
  • hope instead of desire

Develop a list of key words or phrases that describe your organization and target the specific goals of your group. This can be done by reviewing your mission or vision, brainstorming, analyzing past projects, checking out other non-profit collateral or simply using a dictionary and thesaurus. Narrow down your choices to the most descriptive and accurate. Test your future messages and projects against this list to be sure they continue to build your brand and strengthen your message.