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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Fewer Mailings, the Same Amount of Gift Income?

by Stephen Hitchcock

Question: To save money and reduce the number of mailings we send, does it makes sense to ask for a larger gift – say, twice a year (and explain this approach to donors) – rather than continue to send out as many as six solicitations a year?

As sensible as your approach sounds, it will – unfortunately – result in a fewer gifts, a shrinking donor base, and much lower overall revenue for your organization. 

In nonprofit organizations, the development department’s job is to raise money – and to increase the number of gifts and build the donor base. It’s the finance department’s job to save money

Direct mail fundraising is such an efficient way to raise money because millions of American actually enjoy writing checks for relatively small amounts – and then mailing them off in envelopes to which they affix their own stamps. Ten to 20 percent of these remarkable individuals find satisfaction in writing several checks to an organization in the course of the year. They also like to new organizations and initiate support for causes they learn about.

Open Immediately Stephen Hitchcock is author of Open Immediately! Straight Talk on Direct Mail Fundraising: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why.

The problem is that these check-writing Americans are very busy. They are well-educated, enjoy reading, and are active in their churches and communities. They also love to travel. Many still hold important professional positions. Others are active volunteers in their retirement. 

So, if you’re sending only two mailings a year to these busy individuals, you’ll very likely miss their “window” of attention – and giving. Either these donors (or prospective donors) will be away from home. Or they’ll be pre-occupied with other activities – like a big project at work or visiting grandchildren at home. In those situations, many “professional philanthropists” are able to give priority to reading and responding to mail – and your letter ends in the recycling bin.

So I strongly encourage you to keep sending your donors or members at least six mailings a year and I hope you’ll use different formats. And please view them as more than “solicitations.” Every mailing you send is an opportunity to thank your donors for their extraordinary generosity. Your appeals letters are also an ideal way to inform donors about how your organization is achieving the mission that both you and the donors care about.

In addition to the six mailings you’re already sending, you should follow through on your great idea of sending two mailings a year – mailings that ask your donors for a much larger gift.

Besides being an efficient method to raise money from those who like to write small checks, direct mail fundraising is also a wonderful way to discover major donors. Most of those individuals who are sending you $25, $50, and $100 checks are well-off, if not wealthy. Many are also very generous to other organizations. With the right mailing – one that makes a strong case for a gift of $1,000 or $5,000 – you will inspire some (admittedly a precious few) of your donors to make a much larger contribution.

And when those donors take that big step and become true investors in your organization, then you might consider reducing the number of mailings you send to those top donors in the course of the year. Or, at least send the mailings with a handwritten note that states you’re sending this letter to keep them informed about your progress. And, of course, to thank them again for their generosity, which makes all of this possible.


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