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why direct mail marketing is still a nonprofit’s best friend

Direct mail marketing is a vital component to any nonprofit organization’s marketing mix. While email is used frequently, and inbound marketing such as blogs and social media are growing in popularity and effectiveness, there are still many (often underappreciated) significant benefits to using traditional direct mail marketing – yes, we mean postal mail!

One benefit of direct mail is that you provide the prospect with something tangible.  We know people interact with marketing material at higher rates when they can hold it in their hands, and an effective direct mail campaign can deliver your appeal straight into the hands of your target audience.  Sending something tangible makes your ad more personal, and this is hard to achieve through digital methods of advertising.  Additionally, direct mail can be targeted much more narrowly and directly with broader coverage than digital methods.  This is particularly helpful when segmenting your market based very specific criteria such as location, age, presence of children, income, buying or giving habits, etc.  By targeting more directly your message can be tailored to your potential donor thereby developing a more emotional connection, which is at the heart of giving.

How do you get a direct mail campaign started?  Here are six key components that we identify as making up the direct mail process.  Begin with this, and tailor it specifically to your mission and audience in order to create a maximum-impact direct mail campaign. We could call these components “MMPMFC” for short, but that sounds terrible. So here they are in an “acronym-less” form:

mailing list

A good mailing list ensures that your appeal ends up in the right hands. Your mailing list should be targeted based upon location, household vs. business, giving pattern, or any other attribute that makes up the profile of your donor base.  The end result is you target only those prospects that have the potential to become donors, which makes a more effective and fiscally sound campaign. Knowing (and having a direct line to) your audience also allows you to be extremely customized, so take your time with this step as it will help guide your later decisions.


shutterstock_269497136The message creates your make-or-break moment with your donors and prospects. Even if all other steps are done perfectly, bad content will never inspire giving. Your appeal should be differentiated based upon who you are speaking to, for example a donor vs. a potential donor, or a single millennial vs. a retired veteran.  You get the picture; you can tailor your message specifically!  Consider your audience, your objectives, and your organization’s brand and craft a message that speaks to each individual segment in a tone that resonates the value you offer in addressing needs of the community, and why he or she should donate.   Aim for a concise and visually-pleasing message that will prompt action and provide enough information that it is easy to move forward and make a donation, and make sure your phone number and social media addresses are easily spotted.


Printing is a balancing act. Big, bold and beautiful art is eye catching and appealing, but in a nonprofit environment flash has to be balanced with funds.  Printing can get very expensive, so you must leverage what is practical with what is appealing to donors.  Do you really need four colors on your mailer?  Will fewer pieces still get your message across?  Aim to hit a sweet spot where you can strike the best blend of visual appeal and content with economics, keeping in mind that weight, size and shape of the piece affects the cost of mailing.  Visit the USPS to get more information about mailing parameters and the related costs.

mailing timeline

Consider when your donors and prospects are most likely to give:  the holidays, in the spring, during the time of a significant event.  Perhaps it is better to send your direct mail appeal with an immediate follow-up, or maybe you should space your direct mail appeals throughout the year.  If your appeals include volunteer recruitment, don’t forget donors and volunteers may respond on different time lines.   Determine the most impactful time to send your direct mail appeal in each market segment based upon giving patterns and develop a schedule.


shutterstock_278994758-1Whether it’s a “check-in” or a “thank-you”, follow up is key. You wouldn’t accept a gift in your personal
life without thanking whomever gave it to you, so why should your nonprofit be any different? Donations of time or money are a gift to your organization – make sure that donors know you appreciate it.  Also, if you think someone might be on the fence after your first mailer, a friendly reminder can’t hurt!  In addition, intermittent newsletters with success stories of how donations have helped have a huge impact in building long term giving relationships.


As we all well know, good direct mail marketing is not free but there are many ways to minimize the cost. Evaluate where the majority of your expenses come from, and if necessary, consider using an agency that would have resources available at a lower cost.  Also, be sure to always use nonprofit standard postal rates.  Visit nonprofit regulations published by the USPS to make sure you stay within guidelines that allow you to keep big savings on your postage costs (usually the biggest cost in the direct mail portion of your marketing plan).  Ultimately, the more money you save, the more money you can put back into your community. And who doesn’t want that?

We hope that you find these tips and guidelines helpful in your direct mail campaign!

Happy Fundraising!


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