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Database Direct Mail Fundraising:
Improve Personalization Results
with Detective Work

by Alan Sharpe

Next time you are arrested, pay attention to what information the police officer asks you to divulge immediately. It’s not a lot.



Date of birth?

These are the three vital questions that every police officer must ask every suspect, or every “person of interest,” as they are now known. When police officers know your name, address and date of birth, they can find out everything else they need to know about you from their records. Your name, address and date of birth are like your fingerprints. No one else is likely to have the same ones as you.

So learn a tip from your local detectives the next time you examine your donor file. You can personalize your direct mail fundraising appeals in many creative ways when you pay attention to only the name, address and date of birth fields.

Does your donor prefer to be called Miss? That tells you four things right away. Your donor is female. Your donor is likely unmarried. Your donor probably has no children. Your donor is likely younger. If your ask appeals particularly to young, single women, then you know who in your database should receive priority treatment with your mailing.

Are you wanting to increase the size of your database by encouraging your donors to recommend your charity to their neighbours? Then use the address field in creative ways. Don’t simply ask, “Do you know anyone else who would like to support us?” Instead, ask, “Do you know anyone else on Wethered Street, or anyone else in Wingham, who would likely support us?”

Most older donors who are good prospects for planned gifts and bequests are married or were married. Does that mean single donors are poor prospects for legacy mailings? Not if they’re the right age. So if you have a donor who prefers to be called Miss and who also has a date of birth going back to the 1940s, then your detective work may have uncovered a valuable clue to this donor’s ability and willingness to consider a planned gift to your organization.

The secret to effective direct mail fundraising isn’t your database software. It’s your detective work in using that data. Even a four by five index card containing basic donor data contains valuable clues about your donor, provided you ask the right questions.

© 2006 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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