Matthew Rayburn

QUICK SHOT: Direct Mail: It’s Alive! 3 Reasons Why It Still Works in Fundraising

And why it’s pivotal for your digital strategy

The last few years have been hard on direct mail fundraising for nonprofits. Coming out of COVID, we saw direct mail file sizes shrink and campaign percentage response drop. On top of this, the cost of both production and postage have been going up. It hit me while watching a popular post-apocalyptic TV show that there are some familiar themes with direct mail. Despite the anxiety-inducing messages in our industry about “direct mail dying,” direct mail has learned to adapt and thrive in a volatile environment.

If you’ve ever felt scared about the future of direct mail fundraising for nonprofits, I hear you. But take courage, because here are 3 reasons direct mail is still alive and healthy!

1. Mail is still preferred by most of your donors.

My 78-year-old mother still writes a check for her local Mission despite getting and reading all their emails. I asked her once if she would ever give online, and she looked at me like I was crazy! It’s easy for those of us on the younger side to wonder why they wouldn’t give in a more convenient (to us) way! 

Remember that the vast number of your donors are not young technocrats. On the contrary, they tend to be older, and they like paper. Don’t be in a rush to lose them! Maybe in 10 or 20 years the majority of your donors will no longer have checkbooks or value the arrival of a letter in their mailbox, but for now, that is not the case.

2. Direct attribution is over, but it doesn’t mean your mail is not driving gifts.

In the not-so-distant past, it was easy to see how well a direct mail campaign did. Every campaign came with a remit that donors filled out and mailed back with their check. In the modern digital world, however, this is not the case. 

Your donors might get a campaign the same day they see a Facebook ad, a Display ad, receive an email from you, drive by a billboard and hear about you at church. When they finally sit down to make a donation, it’s almost impossible to figure out what was the deciding factor. And even if it was because of the physical campaign, the response is often online and not by mail. This doesn’t mean that results don’t matter or that it is impossible to track them. On the contrary, it means that you have more numbers and information and therefore can get a more robust and intricate understanding of the impact. But it’s important that you track these numbers. If 30% or 40% (or even 47% as we saw recently for one of our clients) of campaign revenue comes from online gifts, you are going to want to make sure you are including this when you make decisions about what and who and when to mail.

And the impact that direct mail has on improving response rates cannot be forgotten. A recent study showed that the average direct mail response rate was still higher compared with other digital-based options.

3. Direct mail is adjusting, adapting and getting smarter.

The reality is that the future of direct mail fundraising for nonprofits is not scary, but rather exciting and inspiring. As my BDI colleague Shellie Speer has pointed out, there is still magic in direct mail! It will look different, though, since effective direct mail campaigns in the future will have to balance securing both mail and online gifts.

Future mail campaigns will also have to include cost-effective elements like postcards, self-mailers that are designed to drive people to give online (especially with the use of QR codes) and not just through the mail. And with the development of newer and better AI models, campaigns will be more selective and strategic, becoming more cost effective and returning higher ROIs. 

As you can see, it’s far from time to call it quits on direct mail. The heartbeat of direct mail is still ticking, thanks to a donor base that prefers and responds to tangible mail, the enduring power of direct mail to drive giving and a hybrid strategy that seamlessly incorporates digital and direct mail campaigns. Rather than being afraid of the shifting direct mail landscape, I encourage you to firm up your direct mail strategies – my BDI colleague Michelle Culbertson offers some great insight here. And your BDI Strategist is always here to help you navigate any questions you have about what direct mail campaigns will work best for your organization.

  • Matthew Rayburn

    Matthew Rayburn, Strategist/Senior Account Director

    For 20 years, Matthew’s work on both the agency and nonprofit side to bring faith-based solutions to issues of homelessness, poverty and addiction. Prior to joining BDI, he was an Account Manager at an agency serving nonprofits and provided leadership at Christian nonprofits, including as Executive Director of Family Promise of San Gabriel Valley, Director of People Assisting the Homeless and Development Director at The Jonah Project. In these roles, Matthew spearheaded fundraising efforts to increase housing, as well as coordinated a highly-successful shelter network of faith communities in the greater Los Angeles area.

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