Direct Mail Is Alive & Well: How to Make Yours More Effective

by Darrell Law | Dec 13, 2016 | Creative, Fundraising

Has the time come for direct mail to ride off into the sunset?

Social media experts and digital marketers would like you to believe that direct mail has gone the way of the dinosaurs. But don’t be deceived by these false claims about the relevance of direct mail in today’s modern world of communication.

Every year Target Marketing conducts a Media Usage Survey. In 2015, 54% of Target Marketing respondents were using direct mail in their customer acquisition efforts.  In 2016, this rose to 58%. The use of direct mail for customer retention has risen from 51% to 55%. Direct mail is alive and kicking!

Even though people love their Facebook, Twitter, and emails, direct mail is still an effective way to communicate with donors when properly executed.  Why is direct mail still growing?

  1. Email addresses easily become inactive. In fact, 30% of people change their email address annually.  Once you have a physical address, you can maintain contact with that donor for a long time. Even if people move and don’t provide a new address, you can get address updates from the U.S. Post Office through the National Change of Address (NCOA) service.
  2. Even when someone has opted out as a phone, email, and/or mobile contact, you can still reach them by postal mail.
  3. When a well-designed mail piece shows up in a donor’s or prospect’s mailbox, it doesn’t get lost the way emails in the saturated and highly filtered inbox do. The mail piece stands out and gets read.

I believe direct mail is similar to radio. The demise of radio was prophesied for years because of television, but radio is still going strong. Radio has five times the reach of Pandora and 15 times that of Spotify. Radio still reaches 92% of adults each week. Like radio, the stories of direct mail’s death are inaccurate.

However, a direct mail campaign must be carefully designed in order to have a good ROI. Here are three suggestions on how to improve ROI for your next direct mail campaign:


Donors don’t want to receive a “Dear Friend” letter. They want to know that you care about them and know who they are. The quickest way to start personalizing is to include the name in the letter. Use the first name so that you are using a conversational tone. Incorporating any information into the letter that the donor has shared with you like from prayer requests will be a tremendous personal touch and can significantly impact the response rate.

Multiple Response Channels

Besides having a well designed response device in the letter for the donor to send back, you may want to consider adding other response channels like telephone or an unique URL for web responses in the direct mail piece. For one of our clients, we were able to attribute over $300,000 by simply adding a dedicated telephone number to the direct mail letter.

Be Unpredictable and Creative

Your mailing is in a race against time. Be aware of the three minute and thirty-three second (3:33) rule for direct mail which suggests you have:

  • 3 seconds or less for your envelope to be noticed and avoid the trash…
  • 30 seconds to engage the reader enough to get your envelope opened…
  • 3 minutes or less for getting the letter contents read and response generated

Changing the size of your envelope, using color, adding powerful teasers, using different paper weight, testing window vs flat-faced envelopes are just a few of the ways you can express your creativity and impact response.

Direct mail is alive and well and should definitely be a part of your overall donor acquisition and donor communication strategies. However, direct mail must be wisely used in order to be an effective tool in your fundraising toolbox to increase revenue for your organization or ministry.

Darrell Law

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