Direct Effect: Make the Most of Your Holiday Direct Mail Appeal

As you know, more than 80 percent of all private contributions in America come from individuals, and a large percentage (and for some organizations, the largest percentage) comes from direct mail. From Thanksgiving to Christmas there is an unusual transformation that makes place within the collective American psyche. Right around Thanksgiving, Americans begin to support charities with an uncommon fervor. This intensity lasts right up to Christmas, evening out again after the beginning of the new year.

If you conduct a direct mail campaign over the holiday season, you can sometimes bring in 50- 75 percent of your total yearly revenue within the four short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. To make your holiday appeal more effective, try some of the following strategies:

  1. Be specific. When drafting a direct mail letter, be very clear in terms of what you will do with the donated funds. Tell the reader how their gift will help the organization. (i.e., “Your gift of $50 will provide 20 hot meals.”)
  2. Use emotion and passion in your letter to elicit a response from your donors. Don’t bore the audience with statistics; give life to your copy with stories and quotes.
  3. Arrange for matching dollars. Ask one of your donors to match existing dollars for your holiday appeal and market this in the letter. (i.e., “Your gift of $100 will be matched dollar for dollar to help feed 75 hungry people in our community.”)
  4. Plan ahead. Write your holiday appeal NOW and have the pieces ready to be mailed by mid-November. You want to beat the mail rush for the holidays so make sure your direct mail letter arrives just prior to Thanksgiving so it doesn’t get lost with the other mail. This is especially true if you are using non-profit bulk mail rates.
  5. Personal notes. If possible, try to get your board, staff, and volunteers who know certain donors to write handwritten notes on their direct mail letters. They should write the notes at the top of the page rather than at the end of the letter.
  6. Use telemarketing to follow-up on the direct mail piece. You will be surprised by how much money a phone call follow-up can lift the response. (Some non-profits have reported a 50 percent increase in donations based solely on the follow-up phone call!)
  7. Newsletter first, then direct mail letter. If you time the holiday direct mail piece to go out directly after you send out your newsletter you will dramatically increase your response rate. The newsletter (or e-newsletter) should emphasize what you’ll be saying in your direct mail piece and encourage people to give.
  8. Use graphics and pictures. Use pictures, charts, and graphics to make your direct mail appeal interesting, compelling, and compassionate.
  9. Trade mailing lists with other organizations. You should always be looking to expand your mailing lists. Consider trading mailing lists with another organization that works in your field (such as human services, health care, arts, etc.).
  10. Follow-up in January. Send a letter after the holiday season notifying donors of their giving amounts for tax purposes. Enclose a handy business reply envelope for recipients to send in a donation. You will be surprised by how much you will make from this simple gesture.

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