Direct Mail Fundraising is a Program, Not a Series of Mailings or a Campaign, Says Consultant

By Alan Sharpe

Before they hired me as their director of development, and before they ran out of money and laid me off, a non-profit organization whose name is unmentionable ran an unmentionable direct mail program.

It wasn’t a program as much as a series of last-minute campaigns. One particularly notorious campaign ran the Christmas before they hired me. As the inflexible deadline loomed to get their last donor newsletter of the year into the mail, the staff procrastinated and put out fires in other departments until the deadline came and went but the newsletter didn’t.

The organization got so far behind that the drop-date for the year-end appeal arrived and they still hadn’t dropped their final donor newsletter in the mail. So, to save money, or so they thought, the person in charge, if I may use that term, decided to mail both the newsletter and the Christmas appeal letter at the same time. In the same package. The appeal letter was inserted into a number 10 envelope, and the envelope was nested into the newsletter, and the newsletter was inserted into a poly bag.

The mailing, as they say, tanked. What should have been their most successful direct mail appeal (Christmas) became their worst. They suspect that donors found the poly bag in their mail, thought that it contained only a donor newsletter, and laid it aside for reading later, or opened the bag and read a page or two before heading out the door to give their money to Wal-Mart.

I tell you all this by way of warning. Direct mail fundraising is not a campaign. It’s not a series of mailings. It’s a program. A direct mail fundraising program.

So what’s the vital difference between a direct mail program and a direct mail campaign?

1. Planned program, not ad hoc mailingsTo professional fundraisers, each letter they drop in the mail is not a one-off campaign or a “mailing” but simply one part of a year-long program, usually one that starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st. Raising money through the mail is complicated, expensive and time consuming. That’s why professional fundraisers plan their mailings months in advance.

2. Runs for 12 monthsUnlike other some fundraising methods (such as banquets), a direct mail fundraising program runs for 12 months. Donors are solicited many times during the year. The program relies heavily on past donors to repeat their gifts. New donors are identified and acquired each year.

3. Repeated every yearUnlike some forms of fundraising (such as capital campaigns), the annual direct mail fundraising program is repeated year after year. The program has a start, a middle and an end, and then repeats itself the next year.

If you want to attract donors, raise funds, retain donors and move donors up the giving pyramid, you need to get with the program.

About the authorAlan Sharpe is president of Raiser Sharpe, a full-service direct mail fundraising agency that helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors. Sign up for free weekly tips like this, and discover other helpful resources, at

© 2007 Sharpe Copy Inc. You may reprint this article online and in print provided the links remain live and the content remains unaltered (including the "About the author" message).

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