Direct Mail for Non-Profits: Building Effective Campaigns

When it comes to a difficult task like fundraising, direct mail for non-profits can be a powerful driving force for acquiring, upgrading, and keeping donors and members. Sure, online channels — websites, email, social, even SMS — grab a lot of attention.

However, according to the most recent (2021 edition) of the Blackbaud Institute Charitable Giving Report, mail is still the most popular way to reach donors to causes and organizations of all kinds. In 2020, 12.9% of fundraising came from online donations, according to the study data. That means 87% of money is raised from offline channels – like mail.

There are a lot of reasons why direct mail for non-profits is still a preferred channel.

  • Direct mail still works best for the primary fundraising age groups – Baby Boomers and Gen X
  • It is physical – a tangible way for non-profits to literally reach out to prospects and contributors
  • Direct mail provides another donor touchpoint – and the more touchpoints you have to drive contributions and memberships for your non-profit, the better

Direct mail for non-profits builds lifetime value. And it achieves this success using data-driven tactics as well as long-standing practices that work for today’s audiences.

What is Direct Mail for Non-Profits?

Non-profits send direct mail for a variety of purposes. But why use print for any of them, when digital channels are “free”? Here’s why:

  • In a survey, 67% of Americans said they still preferred printed materials over digital ones
  • According to another survey, 55% of all consumers trust print marketing over any other advertising method
  • Research by Temple University (among others) shows that haptics – the touch and feel of paper – provides a deeper understanding of and engagement with print
  • Another big finding from Temple: paper ads engaged viewers longer than digital ads did; after a week, test subjects showed a greater emotional response and memory for physical ads

Email and other channels bring their own strengths to the big picture, as we’ll discuss below. But direct mail, especially when it’s done well, results in opening donors’ hearts – and checkbooks.

Campaigns for Prospective Donors

Donor acquisition mail builds non-profits. It starts with a process that’s not any different from any other sector or industry. In your planning, you need to set out a strategy that focuses on:

  • Your target audience (more on that below)
  • Your list or data
  • Your offer or campaign goal
  • Your mailer design and format

Keep in mind that your budget and schedule also play important roles in how you carry out your plan.

Campaigns for Current Donors

Once your non-profit has recruited a donor to your cause, what happens next? Do you have a robust donor communications program to deepen your engagement with them?

Unfortunately, donor attrition is a challenge facing many non-profits, and getting worse according to some experts. How can this be, if you’ve already made a connection and you have their confirmed address information in your CRM system?

Stop the slide! Here are a few ideas that can help your donors:

  • It sounds basic – but always send a thank you to your donor, however and wherever they give you money. “It’s the polite thing to do” says legendary fundraising expert Roger Craver.
  • Make the donor feel that they are an essential part of your group’s mission and making a difference
  • Send testimonials from individuals on how your support makes a positive difference
  • Provide opportunities for feedback through surveys or space for comments on reply forms


To keep contributors invested in your mission, your communications plan should include print newsletters. As fundraising consultant Lisa Sargent says, they are “your retention engines”.


  • They reach any donors with a postal address; not all of them have an email address (or want to share it)
  • Direct mail, studies say, has a longevity of 17 days, while email gets lost in your donor’s cluttered inbox
  • Newsletters can be set aside and read on your time, while sipping a cup of coffee or sitting in your favorite chair
  • You can segment your newsletter list, maybe mailing to major donors using First Class postage with a special thank-you note

Remember – in your newsletter, position the donor as the hero of your non-profit’s story.

6 Best Practices for Direct Mail Fundraising Campaigns

Your direct mail for non-profits strategy should play to the strengths and possibilities of this channel. It’s more than ink on paper. Mail is using data to target and activate the right people. And fundraising mail can help people feel that they are important and making something better.

1. Build your campaigns based on specific segments

Audience is everything. You may have a broad mission with a wide appeal, but that doesn’t mean you should only send mass mailings. Find ways to focus your efforts on specific groups with something in common. They’re more likely to give based on how you write and structure your direct mail piece.

Examples of segments that can be targeted:

  • Geographic – if your non-profit provides services within a specific region
  • Demographic – if you want to make appeals based on gender, age group, etc.
  • Behavioral – if you identify best donors by amount or years as a contributor; try to upgrade their member/donor experience at higher support levels
  • Psychographic – if you have enough data to break down or match potential supporters by shared values and interests

2. Create customized experiences

Data rules direct mail. Besides guiding your selection of a segment (see above), it helps you decide what strategy to follow, depending on your budget and goals.

And data can do so much more.

Personalization in your mail lets you treat each donor as an individual based on what you know about them – their demographics, giving history, and more. With Variable Data Printing (VDP), you can leverage their data to create customized headlines, calls-to-action, charts, graphics, and images. Engaging them 1-to-1 lifts the response rate and donation amounts of your campaigns.

3. Choose more than one channel

Don’t think of your outreach and response channels as separate things or silos. Direct mail for non-profits in 2021 and beyond means being multichannel. When donors are exposed to your messaging and branding across multiple touchpoints, it makes interacting with you easier. It also builds your organization’s credibility and brand image (see below).

Some direct mail for non-profits tactics:

  • QR codes – This one’s easy – get supporters to your website or landing page in seconds with a quick scan of a QR code on your donation form, letter, or newsletter
  • Email – Maximize the individual and combined strengths of email and direct mail to reach expired members, upgrade current donors, or retarget website visitors
  • Social – On your mail, direct contributors or members to your social media channels to foster your community – which builds loyalty and results in more money raised

4. Develop emotional copy

People connect with a cause, a charity, or organization on an emotional level – and unlike other sectors – are far more likely to admit to it. Many are very proud of it.

Which emotions? Swedish marketing guru Axel Andersson and Seattle ad agency founder Bob Hacker identified the seven main emotional drivers that can trigger action:

  • Fear
  • Greed
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Flattery
  • Exclusivity
  • Salvation

Telling a story builds on that connection. It draws the donor into caring about a challenge, choice, triumph, or achievement. Then, you can channel their concern into a desire to help. They can be a hero by donating.

5. Keep your brand consistent

Direct mail for non-profits helps to create a unified brand experience for both prospective donors and current supporters. Consistent messages, logos, colors, and other elements that appear on all of your channels make prospects feel more secure in donating. For current members, it increases your credibility, and says that everyone is on the same team.

Because direct mail is a print medium, it can highlight your brand to family, friends, and the larger community in ways that a web donation or social media post can’t. That’s one reason why flyers, calendars, address labels, tote bags, and other printed collateral are still mailed as front- or back-end premiums – they stand out.

6. Use AIDA for your marketing model

The traditional AIDA (Attention-Interest-Desire-Action) model moves donors on a journey, leading them to open their wallets.


  • Attention – A headline teaser or a striking image stops the recipient in their tracks. Instead of tossing the envelope, they take a moment to think about what could be inside.
  • Interest – Your initial hook should be followed by copy that tells a story (see above), or establishes a need with enough details that the contributor keeps reading, thinking, and most importantly – feeling.
  • Desire – With a background established, a supporter should begin to think about: “What can I do to help?” and “What’s in it for me?” This is when you start to provide answers..
  • Action – Tell your donor what you want them to do next, and when – attending an event, going to a website, returning a form, scanning a QR code, etc.

Keep in mind that at any point, the reader should be able to skip over one of these steps and get right to that call-to-action. Make it easy to find by using white space, a big font, or another tactic.

Wrapping it up

With the help of, you can create direct mail for non-profits that effectively builds organizations as well as serves the wants and needs of donors and members.

We have years of experience working with many non-profits, such as Feed the Children and Union Rescue Mission. Our experts help bring their direct mail campaigns to life, from design and data management to printing and mailing. Reach out to our team to talk about how we can work together on your fundraising campaign!

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