Fundraising Myth Busters: Major donors shouldn’t get direct mail

This is a widely believed fundraising myth. It’s one that I personally hear at least monthly – if not weekly. The thinking is that because major donors give more money, they don’t want to get your organization’s regular direct mail solicitations.

This is installment six of seven in my Fundraising Myth Busters series. If you haven’t had the chance yet, you can check out 1-5 here (Donor acquisition; Brand advertising & direct response fundraising; Solicitation frequency; Online-acquired donors; Cut acquisition to improve revenue)

Let’s jump right in…

Myth #6

Major donors shouldn’t get your direct mail appeals

What we know

  • Major donors frequently start out their giving with smaller gifts through the mail, online or at special events. In fact, in one study, we found that 23% of the cash millionaires identified across a series of nonprofit donor files were acquired through direct mail.
  • Every touch point you have with donors builds awareness, credibility and preference for your organization.
  • 90%+ of major donors make their giving decisions based on an emotionally compelling request, but want specific facts and figures to validate their decision.
  • They view their giving as an investment – they want and need to see the impact and ROI.

How did we validate this

  • We looked at the variances in giving across two local market nonprofits. The first removed several thousand major gift-level donors from their direct mail program. The second left those donors in the mail program but created a unique contact strategy (i.e., more robust offers, higher quality packages, closed face envelopes, first class postage, increased stewardship and impact reporting, etc.).

What we learned

  • After 18 months, the first charity (the one that removed major donors from the mail program) realized a $1,000,000 reduction in income from the donors that had been pulled out of the mail program.
  • The second charity, the one that mailed major donors with a special annual treatment, generates roughly $800,000 per year at a 10:1 ROI from the major donors in their mail program. Because this program helps upgrade donors to higher giving levels year-over-year, they’re also able to use this as a filter to identify donors that are likely to give larger gifts if personally engaged.

You’ll raise more money from your major donors and keep them engaged (i.e., retained) longer if you strategically layer direct response vehicles like direct mail and email with personal cultivation efforts like phone calls and face-to-face visits rather than just picking one way to communicate with these highly valuable donors.

Myth Busted

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 thoughts on “Fundraising Myth Busters: Major donors shouldn’t get direct mail

  1. I won’t argue with empirical evidence but I think there should be a caveat. When a major donor specifically asks to be removed from the direct mail program, a nonprofit should honor that request while ensuring they have a strategy to further cultivate that donor.

  2. Well said, Andrew! I’ve seen organizations do this so many times, and it’s not a sound strategy. Often, the thought is that the major donors should be pulled out of the direct mail stream and moved into portfolios for more one-on-one engagement, but the reality is that the portfolio size often exceeds capacity of the gift officer to have meaningful one-on-one engagement with all the assigned donors. The result? Donors who were engaged and giving are suddenly receiving no contact from the organization they were supporting without knowing why. Direct mail can be used to complement and elevate major donor strategy; it should be a “both-and” approach, not an “either-or.”