4 Tips for Designing Fundraising Mail that Works

Direct mail fundraising is part art, part science. Whether you are engaging in prospecting mailings (to people who have never given to your organization before) or housefile mailings (to past donors), your direct mail should be designed so it grabs the readers’ attention and convinces them to give.

In our class, How to Raise More Money through Direct Mail Fundraising, we spend a lot of time talking about the changes you can make to your fundraising mail that will make the biggest impact for your overall revenue. Here are 4 key tips for designing fundraising direct mail that raises more money in a shorter amount of time:

#1 – Design for Both Scanners and Readers

As far as fundraising direct mail is concerned, there are three types of recipients:

– The 10 Second Club – The vast majority of readers fall into this category. These are the folks that look at your piece and walk it to the trash can – they have your piece in their hands for approximately 10 seconds.

– The Skimmers – A far smaller number of readers are skimmers – people who look through your mail piece on the way to trash can, reading headlines and looking at pictures. They will generally have your piece in their hands for 20-30 seconds. These people are usually somewhat interested in your mission, and thus more likely to donate, or are just people who like to skim everything before they throw it out so as to not miss anything.

– The Readers – Few and far between, these people actually take the time to read your mail piece. They generally will look through your piece for 1-2 minutes, reading the headlines and drilling down into the text. These people are either very interested in your particular issue or non-profit, or tend to be older, retired folks who enjoy receiving and reading direct mail.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? You’ve spent all that time designing your mail piece and figuring out whom to mail it to, and most of those people just throw it out! Not to fear… direct mail works. The key is to design your direct mail with the knowledge that most people will hold it in their hands for 30 seconds or less… the key is to use tried and true methods to make your mail more successful and memorable – to design fundraising direct mail that works.

As you design your non-profit’s fundraising mail, you’re not as concerned with the “immediately throw out” crowd, because it is unlikely that these people will give money. That being said, we do want to design our fundraising mail to be compelling for both scanners and readers… this means including lots of white space, lots of bolded and italicized text, and lots of bullet points and pull quotes, as well as great text content (for deep readers). Design for scanners and readers, not just readers.

#2 – Remember what People Read First

Your average reader looking at a direct mail piece will read the first line, the bolded and italicized words, any headlines, captions on pictures, and the P.S. – What does this mean for you?

It means that you should design your direct mail piece to that a person who reads the text this way can understand what you are saying and hear the call to action. Use the first line, bolded words, captions and your P.S. (and P.P.S., and P.P.P.S.) to tell your story and ask for money. Then, use the rest of the letter to fill in the gaps.

#3 – Ask for Specific Amounts

Have you ever received a fundraising direct mail letter that included words like this? Please give your most generous contribution of $50, $100, $250 or more today to help us!

Did you ever wonder why so many non-profits use formulas like that for their asks? The answer is: because it works! People give more when they are asked to give a range of specific amounts. Those amounts can be determined either by what they have given in the past (for housefile folks), what they can most likely afford to give (for prospecting folks) or be based on some general numbers. No matter what way you go about it, ask for a range of specific amounts. People give more when you tell them what amount you would like them to give.

#4 – Donors like Variety

When you are mailing to your housefile, keep it varied! You can reasonably, and with very little complaint from the folks on the list, mail to your housefile once per month (meaning that you send them one piece of direct mail once per month). If you do so, though, people will soon get tired of reading the same types of direct mail letters over and over again. The solution is to change it up – be creative, and send your housefile various types of fundraising direct mail.

This means you should be sending your list both ask and non-ask letters, newsletters, updates, annual and campaign appeals, invitations, etc. If you keep it varied, your donors and prospects won’t get bored and won’t feel bombarded by your organization.


Photo Credit: Atelier Teee