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One Direct Mail Strategy Modern Nonprofits Use to Reach More Donors

January 18, 2023 by Yolanda Bishop

Girl opening and reading a donation letter request

Growing your fundraising program may have gotten more difficult in the past few years.
Resources may be stretched too thin. The inability to hold in-person events may have slowed momentum. If the path ahead feels uncertain, you are not alone.

Focusing your direct mail fundraising strategy and marketing efforts where it matters most is often difficult to define. With new fundraising methods, tech and opportunities constantly evolving, it feels almost impossible to keep up.

With so much opportunity, current fundraising strategies for nonprofits are often overlooked and not fully optimized to their greatest potential. Some would argue that optimizing a current program is a better way to maximize time and dollars rather than investing in a new fundraising strategy, especially in the current landscape.

One of the best ways to optimize your existing donor outreach programs and engage more donors is hyper-personalization. With this one strategy, you will get the most out of every donor touchpoint you create – especially when it comes to your direct mail campaigns.

How is Direct Mail Personalized?

Let’s get personal with direct marketing for nonprofit organizations.

Personalization is a universal marketing concept that can be applied to both print and digital channels. However, since print is the most common and accessible method of donor outreach due to its effectiveness, positive psychological impact and tangibility it has on the donor, we will look at this topic through the lens of direct mail. But feel free to apply it to whatever current programs you are currently running!

Many nonprofit organizations or charities will, at minimum, personalize the salutation with the donor’s first name. And while this is a good first step, the art of hyper-personalization includes many more variables and opportunities to apply unique information that will resonate and capture the reader’s attention. Hyper-personalization, also known as 1:1 marketing, essentially creates a communication so unique, that it would only make sense to the intended recipient. Targeting donors on a 1:1 level can increase response rates by 50% or more, per the Data & Marketing Association.  

Personalizing your direct mail outreach should be front and center when it comes to your donor engagement strategy. Personalization is the process of using data and information unique to the specific recipient within the salutation, letter copy, artwork and even donation request. The more personalized the piece, the more likely the recipient will pay attention and respond to the call to action.


Because when the reader can see that there is information that represents them specifically, it makes them feel like they are known and valued by your organization, as opposed to just another random donor in the donor pool. The donor recognizes that you are investing extra effort to communicate to them individually, which can help you build the overall cause/donor relationship.

Ways to Personalize a Direct Mail Campaign to Engage Donors

It all comes down to positively increasing response rates. What’s a good response rate for direct mail fundraising? Let’s take a look…

Let’s say that your nonprofit or charity is sending out a generic fundraising letter to 5,000 donors and the letter is returning a 1% response rate; 1% of all recipients take action and provide a donation. That is a total of 50 donors. 50 donors with an average of $100 donation = $5,000.

This letter is a great starting point. But what happens as we start to add layers of personalization?

For the next appeal letter, you add several data points unique to the donor. For example, you add the donor’s name in the salutation, the date when they made their first contribution, previous donation amounts, and cite the program in which they are most interested.

This additional personalized data captures the donor’s attention, and reminds them specifically of their past donations and why the cause is important to them. 5% of the donors respond to the letter. In a list of 5,000 donors with a 5% response rate, 250 donors contribute. 250 donors with an average of $100 donation = $25,000.

You are investing the same amount of marketing dollars for the processing, printing and mailing of the letter, but 200 more donors engage with your organization, and $20,000 more is made from a single mailing. As long as you are collecting these data points about your donor pool, this level of personalization is easy to implement because the data is readily available.

Hyper-Personalization Strategies for the Win!

Now, let’s implement hyper-personalization. In addition to the personalization added previously, the donor list is segmented by average donation amount, donation frequency and messaging tailored to each group. Perhaps one fundraising letter template encourages low dollar contributors to increase their donation amount or low-frequency contributors to increase the times they donate throughout the year. Each appeal letter template cites how their increased contributions help impact the success of the specific organizational goals the donor cares about most.

This letter has additional variable copy thanking the donors for attending your most recent event, and there is an update on a specific win related to the program, or organizational goal, identified as most important to the donor. Further, the direct mail artwork represents the same program or goal referenced earlier in the letter copy, and the images represent the recipients’ demographic profile.

With a fully unique, 1:1 letter going out to each of the 5,000 donors, this letter returns a 12% response rate! 600 donors contribute and the letter earns $60,000 at an average of $100 per donor.

Same list. Same print and mail costs. Different (better) results. This is the power (and beauty) of hyper-personalization. With this technique, you are successfully engaging more donors and getting the most out of each outreach.

Personalization at this level may require some additional development, upfront preparation and purposeful collection of the necessary data points. However, the results demonstrate it is well worth it. Plus, once the variable placements are coded, you can easily add more options based on your data! Splash has many tools to help streamline and automate complex personalization, so don’t be deterred by the initial effort required to get it implemented; we make it easy.

These Direct Mail Fundraising Best Practices Achieve Results

The above personalization data points are just a few examples. There is an indefinite amount of data points you can collect, as well as how you use them. This intersection of data and interpretation is where the science becomes art in determining what your donors are going to relate to or connect to the most.

Here is a list of innovative fundraising strategies that can further differentiate your nonprofit organization or charity and provide the level of experience and connection your donor base expects:

Donor Segmentation

The first thing you can do is place your donors in large buckets that categorize them based on certain attributes, also known as segmentation. Some of these buckets can include current donors, potential donors, lapsed donors, first-time donors, etc. Each of these larger segments would start with a similar message that would lend itself to a fundraising letter template but then be further personalized to the recipient with clearly defined variables.

Donor Engagement History

The following data points are important when communicating with your donors, but even more important for you to understand how your donor base is performing. Use data points where appropriate so that your donor is reminded of their interactions and historical activity with your organization:

  • How were they acquired: in person, online, direct mail, or at an event?
  • How often do they make donations?
  • What programs are they interested in?
  • What was the last event they attended?
  • What were the size of their donations and total lifetime giving?
  • Did they volunteer for a specific role?
  • Are they interested in participating or volunteering in a leadership capacity?


Use common demographics to bring in like-images in the artwork. Age, ethnicity, marital status, and parental status are all great ways to target your donor with representative imagery. This imagery is a great strategy to strengthen your commitment to diversity, inclusivity and representation if they are important initiatives within your organization.

More Data Points

Most of the data listed above should naturally be collected in your database or CRM as the events occur. However, you have even more opportunities to personalize your fundraising outreach by asking additional questions of your donors, either through a print, online or phone survey. Simply communicate to your donors that you are interested in learning more about them so that you can custom tailor outreach and make sure they are aware of events and the activities of the organization that they care about most. The data collected in these surveys will depend on your organization’s causes and activities. It is a great way to get creative and learn more about your donors!

  • Do they have connections in their network that could be helpful to the organization’s cause?
  • Did they have a personal story that is related to the cause? If so, what was it?
  • Do they have friends, family, or colleagues that they could refer to the organization?
  • What is their favorite color, animal, restaurant, movie, TV show or food?
  • Do they have children or pets?
  • Do they have a specific story to share about your organization that can serve as a story, quote or testimonial?

While some of these questions may not appear to be related to the cause, knowing a simple attribute like favorite color can help you target mailer artwork with that color to garner more attention! And no, you do not need to create a separate piece of artwork for each favorite color of your donors. There is advanced variable data print (VDP) software that can do it all for you. You will require a direct mail partner’s expertise to develop the program. However, once built, you are free to send that mailer out as often as you need to with no additional programming.

Take the First Step to Increase Donor Response Rates

Canon Solutions America notes that using a combination of color ink and more sophisticated database information as seen in a hyper-personalization strategy, can increase rates up to 500%, versus not doing anything at all. It goes to show that implementing just a few of these strategies can make a huge difference in the success of a fundraising direct mail campaign.

Contact us today at (714) 436-3300 to learn how you can maximize your opportunity to create connections and reach more donors through hyper-personalization!