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Fundraising Letters - Are You Too
Small for Direct Mail Donor Acquisition?

by Alan Sharpe

Some non-profit organizations should not use direct mail as a way to attract new donors. Is your organization one of them? Take this simple test and find out.

Test #1: Are you well known to many people?

The average response rate for a direct mail donor acquisition mailing is 1%. Which means you must mail 100 letters to acquire 1 donor. And mail 10,000 letters to acquire 100 donors. And mail 100,000 letters to acquire 1,000 donors. This is the unavoidable math of direct mail fundraising.

So direct mail is not the best donor acquisition tool for you if you are located in a small town that has a small pool of potential donors, or if your organization is unknown. To succeed at direct mail donor acquisition, your organization needs to have broad name recognition, or, if you are new, have a founder with broad name recognition.

Test #2: Do you meet a pressing need?

To attract new donors with fundraising letters, your organization needs to have a compelling case for support. Many non-profit organizations serve a constituency that is either too small or too obscure to appeal to many donors.

The Moose Jaw Amateur Radio Club, for example, is a fine organization, Iím sure. But they do not meet a pressing need. Heart disease is a pressing need. Global warming is a pressing need. And drunk driving. And diabetes. To succeed at direct mail donor acquisition, your organization must meet a basic, urgent, human need.

Test #3: Will you pass a search on Google?

If you have no track record, no annual report, no audited statements and no way of proving that you are financially responsible, ethical and trustworthy, now is not the right time to try acquiring donors through direct mail. To succeed at direct mail donor acquisition, your organization needs public proof that you are credible, preferably going back many years.

Test #4: Are potential donors easy to find cost- effectively?

On occasion I have helped a small, evangelical adoption agency raise funds. They do terrific work finding loving homes for babies that would otherwise be aborted. My wife and I adopted two boys through this agency. As you can imagine, the majority of their donors have been touched by adoption in one way or another. Most Canadians have not. Which is why this organization does not use direct mail as a way to acquire new donors. They donít have a pool of potential donors thatís easy to find.

So they rely instead on word of mouth, special events and relationship-building. To succeed at direct mail donor acquisition, your organization needs what Lautman & Company calls ďa natural constituency.Ē

© 2007 Alan Sharpe. Reprinted with permission.


About the Author: Alan Sharpe, fundraising letter writer, instructor and author, is president of Raiser Sharpe, the full-service direct mail fundraising agency that helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using cost-effective, compelling, creative fundraising letters. Sign up for free weekly tips like this at
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