• Five Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Blunders to Avoid
  • From Expert Fundraiser Alan Sharpe

Five Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Blunders to Avoid Woody Allen once said that "80 percent of success is just showing up."

He was wrong, of course.

Just showing up in your prospective donor's mailbox will not guarantee your success any more than just showing up for an interview will land you a job or just showing up at a front door will land you a date. Acquiring donors with direct mail fundraising letters is complicated and time consuming, and expensive if you do it wrong. Here are five common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Not mailing to enough people
Direct mail fundraising works best when you mail to tens of thousands of donors repeatedly over time asking for small donations. The smaller your list is, the higher your costs are per piece, per dollar raised and per donor acquired. When your response rate is only one percent, you need to mail in the tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, to acquire enough donors to make your efforts worthwhile.

Mistake #2: Expecting acquisition mailings to raise money
You should expect your direct mail acquisition mailings to lose money. Direct mail donor acquisition mailings almost never raise net revenue. They gain new donors, yes, but usually at a cost of spending $1.25 to raise $1. Acquisition letters are designed to raise donors, not donations, friends, not funds.

Mistake #3: Using fundraising letters to promote an obscure cause
Direct mail is an effective way to raise funds when you have a cause that has broad appeal, either locally or nationally, such as heart disease, sick children or abandoned pets. If your organization is small or obscure, don't expect to even break even with direct mail donor acquisition. You won't.

Mistake #4: Writing a short letter
The biggest myth in direct mail fundraising is that people don't read long letters. People read what interests them, and they read for as long as something interests them. If your lover mailed you a hand-written letter from overseas, would you prefer one page or four? Donor acquisition letters need to be longer than one page because you are starting from zero. You have no relationship with the potential donor. They don't know you personally. A few paragraphs on one side of a sheet of paper may work for friends, but not strangers.

Mistake #5: Not differentiating yourself from competitors
What's the difference between the Cancer Research & Treatment Fund (New York), the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation (Virginia) and the National Foundation for Cancer Research (Maryland). If a prospective donor received an appeal letter from each of these charities on the same day, would she know which one to support? If you have a competitor, locally or nationally, you must tell potential donors and the public how you are unique or you won't raise funds and you won't last.

Learn more
Read Pushing the Envelope: Proven tactics for raising more money with direct mail fundraising letters, Attract New Donors and Members with a Magnetic Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Package, Mail Superiority: How to Run a Profitable Annual Direct Mail Fundraising Letter Program

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