Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Is It Time To Play “Taps” for Direct Mail?

As the electronic giving options for giving for churches, ministries, and nonprofits continues to grow, I’m meeting more and more leaders who refuse to consider fundraising by mail, or others who were using it and now have stopped. The question is – is the era of direct mail fundraising over? To find out, I asked Randy Brewer of Brewer Direct here in California. Brewer Direct is an agency that handles all aspects of donor development and fundraising for some of the largest and most successful nonprofits in the country. They have developed fundraising strategies that cross the spectrum from traditional direct mail to electronic giving. Here’s Randy’s answer:

Randy Brewer: I’m a direct mail believer. And no, I am not saying that as part of a 12-Step program to confront a misguided belief. I’m a direct mail believer because – even in the 21st century when we all have 24/7 access to our phones, smartwatches, tablets and laptops – direct mail still works.

Direct mail does not wait for someone to Google your organization or to take a risk and click on a link. It comes to the home, waits until the donor or prospect is ready, and then delivers a message tailored to the recipient.

But that’s just my take on direct mail – and I admit I’m an optimist. Fortunately, though, I am an optimist backed by data. Giving USA reported that 2017 giving exceeded $400 billion for the first time, 79% of which came from individuals (outright gifts and bequests). Donations were given online, at events, and through one-on-one cultivation. But behind those successes, one plow horse continued to work out of the spotlight, driving traffic online, exciting people about yet another Gala or “a-thon,” and giving people a heart-tugging view of what is possible when they give: direct mail.

As a piece of your fundraising puzzle, direct mail will:
• Differentiate your organization from the many others who sound – to the casual scanner looking for a place to give – interchangeable.
• Retain donors. Direct mail doesn’t rely on supporters seeking out the message. Instead, it reaches out to say “thank you,” show them what their gifts made possible, and excite them about the next giving opportunity.
• Give you an audience with people selected because they are the most likely to be interested in your cause.
• Do its share of heavy lifting in your omni-channel fundraising strategy. Our company’s research found that the best long-term donor first gave online and then was cultivated on and offline.
• Develop your story. Readers are driven to your website when the direct mail letter first captures their attention.
• Invite a donor to become a monthly giver. Relying on a checkbox on your website to encourage monthly giving only gets part of the job done. Direct mail gives strong reasons (head and heart) to commit to a monthly gift.

Looking to save money? Stop thinking that moving all your fundraising online is the answer. Yes, you will cut expenses, but at a very high cost. Fundraising email clickthrough rates declined to 0.42% in 2017, online giving was only about 10% of total individual giving, and response rates for fundraising emails was 0.06%. You need more – and that’s direct mail.

Take it from a direct mail optimist, armed with real data from nonprofits that are succeeding: direct mail is a key part of your fundraising and donor retention strategy. Digital is too, but it’s not the silver bullet. Fundraising success comes from doing both online and offline well.

— Randy Brewer is the founder of Brewer Direct, an agency that has helped nonprofits raise multiple millions of dollars and acquire hundreds of thousands of new donors. An ordained minister with degrees in Education and Ministry, Randy serves on the board of African Enterprise USA, a 50-year-old evangelistic and relief ministry in Africa. Randy has also authored Finding My Voice: A Story of Grace, Hope and Healing, the story of his journey with a rare form of throat cancer.

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  1. Grey Matter Research and Opinions4Good teamed up on a series of research studies among donors (The Donor Mindset Study). Two of the reports looked at direct mail vs. e-mail. We found that donors read all or part of, on average, 78% of the direct mail they receive from organizations they financially support. We also found that donors feel direct mail has a slight advantage over e-mail at communicating facts and information, but a significant advantage at telling a touching story. E-mail is not the be-all-and-end-all it used to be, but it is a critical part of an integrated fundraising and communication strategy. (Both full reports are available for anyone who wants them – just go to the website pages noted above.)

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