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Downes Murray International News

How often should I mail my donors?

For the most part it is prompted by a concern that mailing too often will cause ‘donor burn-out’ or create a negative reaction. And it’s a perfectly acceptable question to raise – because no-one wants to upset their donors.

So let’s look at what might constitute a typical annual direct mail programme aimed at existing donors:

  • Four renewal mailings to the entire file.
  • Two newsletters also to the whole file.
  • A major donor mailing to a small number of donors who have joined your major supporter group by giving an additional large gift each year.
  • A major donor newsletter to this group.
  • A ‘thank you’ mailing to your monthly donors mailed mid year.
  • A Christmas/Season’s Greeting card to your monthly donors at year-end.
  • To this you might add a special mailing to donors of 65 years and older inviting them to enquire about your bequest booklet, and another special mailing to lapsed donors with a strong incentive for them to renew their support.
So your typical donor mailing programme might have no fewer than 12 mailings each year. But, of course, not all going to the same segments of our donor file and not all would contain a direct ‘ask’.

Only your four renewal mailings, and your major donor mailing would have direct ‘asks’ plus a donation form and a reply envelope. Each of these mailings would also be ‘themed’ with a specific project or seasonal reason for the donor to support. So they wouldn’t just be ‘yet another letter asking for money’. Each would recognise the donor’s past support and would add a compelling reason for why you’re approaching them again.

The two newsletters (and the major donor newsletter) would, as their main purpose, provide feedback to donors. However, they would contain a response device with a low key ‘ask’.

And the addition of just that response piece with what we term a ‘soft ask’, will ensure that you receive sufficient income from the mailing to cover the entire cost of the newsletter.

In fact, income from a well produced newsletter will often produce donations equivalent to double the total production and mailing cost.

The major donor newsletter is the only one that might not contain this reply envelope as these folk are already giving very generously and, as the list is likely to be a small one, the cost of sending them a newsletter is not great.

If you’re still a bit skeptical about the number of mailings that I am recommending, then think about these three fundraising truths:

  • Never attempt to think for your donors. They’ll let you know if you’re annoying them by mailing too often (and you should quickly and courteously respond to all complaints). But beware the tendency to react to a small handful of complaints when the majority have voted positively by sending you additional donations.
  • Every additional mailing to existing donors will produce an increase in net income for your direct mail programme – even if you mail each and every month.
  • With the large number of other organisations who are communicating with people who are often your donors, you should ensure that your organisation isn’t forgotten because you aren’t communicating as regularly as some of your competitors.

In summary, you probably could, and certainly should be mailing your donors more often than you are at present.

But you should be doing so with an intelligently planned and well-constructed programme that incorporates plenty of feedback and acknowledgement of their support. And, finally, don’t forget to show them how their money’s being put to excellent use.

With acknowledgement to the late Terry Murray in The Ask of Asking + 60 More Fundraising Tips and Trends.                   

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