The Most Effective Direct Mail Packs for Nonprofits | CharityHowTo


Blog post by Erica Waasdorp

I hope you were convinced from one of my earlier blogs that direct mail for nonprofits is still the most effective way to generate donations from your existing donors and generate new donors. 

Direct Mail for Nonprofits

The next question you might ask yourselves then is how often and how can you best reach out to your donors, so they’ll be most likely to respond. 

Let’s start with how often you can reach out to your donors, so they’ll continue to love you.

It’s always one of my favorite questions to ask at a webinar: How often do you send appeals to your donors now?

Sadly, most nonprofits are not reaching out to their donors enough! I typically see many who answer once or twice a year. Only a few say four times a year.


My recommendation is to communicate with your donors via the mail at least quarterly.

Fundraising is all about building relationships. How can you expect to build a relationship if you don’t communicate with your donors?

Let’s face it, there are only 3 (three!) ways to grow your fundraising revenue: 

  1. Bring in new donors (you need to replace those who leave,  it’s a way to grow)
  2. Reactivate lapsed donors (don’t give up on your donors too soon, trust me!) 
  3. Generate more money from your existing donors, more often, at higher levels, ongoing. 

That’s why it’s important to look at the overall number of times you’re communicating with your donors. It’s probably a lot less often then you should be. And you’d probably raise more money than you could if you made just a few changes. 

‘But wait,’ you’ll say, ‘I don’t want to offend my donors.’ I don’t want to send them too much mail. 

This is where direct mail packs come into play. 

If you send the right packs, your donors will love your appeals, will donate, and want to receive more! 

Here are a few types of direct mail packs for nonprofits and examples your donors will love. 

How do I know this? Well, because donors have continually responded in a positive way to all examples below.

Newsletters (sometimes called impact reports) 

Newsletters are great examples of direct mail packs that tell your donors about the impact they’re making. They’ll be even better received if they are very donor centric.

Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts for your next nonprofit newsletter:

  • Make the type big font
  • Make it easy to Read. 
  • Show lots of pictures. 
  • Less text and if there is copy, make it all about the donor. YOU. YOU. YOU.   not we, we, we.
  • Count the number of yous! 
  • Don’t include check presentations, because that’s not about the donor but it’s also giving the message of “I just got a big check, so I don’t need your money! 
  • No lists of donors because that would make other donors not feel valued. 
  • Do include quotes or stories from donors because your donors love hearing from other donors.
  • Stories are great, but always make the donor the hero, the problem solver. 

Always build in an option to give

The most responded to newsletters are sent in an envelope with a personalized reply form and a reply envelope, so you’ll make it easy for the donor to respond and you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade the donor’s gift.

Now, if your budget is tight, you may find that you can only send an impact report as a self-mailer with tabs on the side and the donor’s address on the outside and a return envelope included. It’s probably going to raise slightly less money, but it’s better than not sending anything at all. 

However, if you have at least 10,000 donors, I recommend testing the newsletter in an envelope compared to the self-mailer and see which package gets better results. 

Newsletters are direct mail packs donors will love, and it’s a major part of the Ask. Thank. Report. Repeat process that’s the ideal sequence whenever it comes to fundraising.

Mission focused direct mail packs with the option for the donor to interact

Donors will love interacting with your organization, so look for ways that you can create something that’s interactive.

For example, if you’re a nonprofit that serves children: How about having the children you serve create a drawing that’s sent out as a holiday card?

Another way to engage your donors is to send them a card and ask the donor to sign it and send it back to you with a personal message to the kids in your program.

Don’t forget to include an ask in this mailer, so they have the option to send back a donation with the card.

I’ve seen packs with paper Christmas ornaments donors are asked to return which will be displayed, veterans thank you cards, birthday cards for the founder, etc. etc. 

If the packs fit with your mission, donors will love to receive them and respond to them, as they deeply care about your mission and vision and want to be involved in a meaningful way. Give them the opportunity to do so by making it easy. 

Survey packs are also great ways for donors to interact. 

See where it fits best in your communication schedule and take it from there. Don’t forget to include a fundraising ask as one of the questions.

Surveys will not generate as much of a response as some other direct mail packs, but they are worthwhile. Also if you implement some of their feedback, you’re more likely to have happier donors who will give more the next time you ask. 

Direct Mail packs with pictures 

Pictures can be included in an appeal letter very easily and affordably. You can have an outside envelope that’s printed in your one-color logo, but then the inside (letter) will have some full color pictures. 

A lot has been written about the impact of happy or sad pictures. For most organizations sad pictures lift response because the donor feels that he or she can make that person, child or puppy or kitten happy again by solving their problem.

It’s a fine line between making the donor feel that they can do something versus making them feel bad. 

I referred to this earlier: type size and font are important. The easier-to-read packs are for the donor, the more likely they’ll read them.

That means nothing smaller than 12 points, and no white text on a dark background, no matter what your designer tells you.  Also indent your letters to give it some extra white space. 

The next step up could be a special holiday card.

Make sure it’s going to hit the donor’s mailbox well before the holiday itself, and make it as personal as possible and do include a return envelope.

This direct mail pack typically will have (a) happy picture(s) in it and it often can serve as a reminder to donate after the year end appeal. 

Then there are the packs that have a little something in them.

I’m not necessarily advocating for the so-called upfront premium (freemium) packs, but if they fit your mission (or if your donors are used to them), most of your donors will love receiving them.

It can be as simple as a step up from your typical direct mail packs, but you do have to tread lightly. You never want the donor to feel like you’ve spent a lot of money sending them this pack. 

Most cost-effective “freemium” packs include a mission focused appeal with story, some pictures and then a sheet of personalized address labels. Especially if you put in your letter that they only cost a few pennies; donors are usually okay with it. And who doesn’t need address labels? Make sure the donor’s name is easy to read though. 

Other packs that are close to your mission could include an organizational sticker with your logo and nonprofit name, or a  thank you note from someone whose been served by your nonprofit.

Calendars or simple pocket calendar cards are very popular.

Donors can put them on their fridge, and will use them throughout the year, reminding them of your nonprofits mission and vision, and encouraging them to stay involved.

While these are typically a bit more expensive to produce and send, they have a longer ‘fridge’ life and it’s a reminder for the donor how much they love your organization. 

So, I’ve stepped it up from a simple letter with some pictures to calendars… yes, there’s a wide range. You must decide what best fits your organization and your budget.

What if the donor doesn’t love the direct mail packs? 

Wait you say, ‘shouldn’t I be worried donors will complain about these things?’ 

Yes, you’re right. No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everybody! 

You may have some donors call and complain, especially if you don’t explain that the item only costs you a few pennies. Donors will absolutely tell you what they like and don’t like.

But please keep two things in mind: 

How you and the board feel about the direct mail packs is much less important than how your donors feel about it. 

If donors complain, they care. They do LOVE you. So be sure to flag those donors in your database,  but also don’t worry too much.

They’re doing you a favor and it is a great opportunity to have a conversation with your donors about your programs, perhaps even about your monthly giving program. You’ve just opened the door and they have too. 

Then look at the relative number of people who complain.

For Example, if you’re sending out 10,000 calendars and you have 10 donors that call you, that’s not that many. If you send out 1,000 cards and you have 100 that people complain, that’s huge.

So, always see what the total number is in relationship to how many were mailed. 

I’ve even heard it the other way around: donors contacted the organization asking when the next calendar was coming out or when they could expect their supporter card. Aren’t those donors simply the best? 

Trust me, I know all about walking the fine line on finding the most cost-effective and most responsive direct mail pack for nonprofits. The fine line between mission, goodies, newsletters, number of times appealing and updating isn’t easy but it can be done. 

You’re the fundraiser. Plan for the year. Include a budget with those direct mail packs that are most likely to make your donors happy, most likely to garner donations,  and most likely to keep encouraging continual giving. 

Click here to view all upcoming webinars from Erica Waasdorp and learn all the ins and outs of monthly giving for your nonprofit!

About The Author

Building partnerships and trying to find the best solution for donors and her clients are what Erica Waasdorp does best.

Her multi-lingual skills and multi-cultural experience bring added value to those clients interested in raising money internationally. And her experience in monthly giving has given her an edge for those clients who are ready to embark on this way of giving.


Topics: nonprofit marketing, Direct Mail for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Direct Mail, Donor Management