• Mary Rosebrook

Make Your Donors Feel Special: 3 Simple Direct Mail Tweaks

Think back for just a minute to when you were a kid, running to the mailbox.

Remember that feeling of hopefulness, fingers crossed that there was a letter waiting for you? And then, the excitement of holding it in your hands, seeing your name in a handwritten scrawl. The anticipation as you tore into the envelope.

With email, texting, and social media as our go-to methods of communication, our “IRL” mailboxes look pretty different these days. Full of bills and ads and not much else.

And sadly, most of the mail sent out by nonprofit organizations ends up looking an awful lot like both of those things—an ad or a bill.

Pretty hard to muster up excitement for either of them, isn’t it?

And neither one of them is likely to make donors get excited enough about your cause to send you money.

I’m not a big fan of junk mail. Is anyone?

Like many people, I’ve got a habit of opening mail straight over the recycle bin, if it gets opened at all. Often, I don’t even bother to open it. 

Your donors are doing the same thing, particularly if the mail sent from your organization is clearly an impersonal mailing sent out to hundreds or thousands of supporters. 

But there are things you can do to make donors open that letter.

To save it from going straight to the recycle bin.

Consider what might happen if your donors opened the mailbox and saw a letter intended just for them.

Not a mass mailing, or an advertisement, or a bill. A thoughtful, personalized letter.

It might give them a hint of that thrill from childhood.

They might actually open that letter.

Read it.

Be inspired to take action.

And send in a donation. 

Sound impossible? It might be easier than you think. Here are a few simple steps you can take to make your donor excited to see a letter from you and compelled to make a donation.

None of these are complicated, but many nonprofits still aren’t doing them. Make these changes, and you’ll stand out in the sea of ads and bills in your donor’s mailbox.

1. Address your donors by name.

Never start a letter with “Dear Friend” or, even worse, “Dear Supporter.” Immediately, this tells the donor that they just happened to get a copy of a mass mailing that also went out to a number of other people. How would you refer to them in person? Would it be as Mr. Robertson? Or as Joe? Go with that. Even if you're sending this letter to a mailing list of thousands, it doesn't have to read that way. Make your donor feel like this letter was written with them in mind, and only them. 

2. Write your letter from a specific person.

Specifically, from the point of view of the executive director. While you and I both know the ED may not actually write the letter, the letter should have her signature and come from her point of view.

This is a personal communication—from one person, to one person. Make sure the letter doesn't sound like it's coming from the entire organization. Getting a letter from an organization feels cold and impersonal. Getting a letter from a person feels like you're hearing from a friend. 

3. Give the donor credit. 

Just like when you’re talking to a friend, rambling on and on about yourself and not letting the other person get a word in edgewise can make you sound boring. Or worse, self-absorbed. Try to avoid this in your appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletters, as well.

Tell the donor about all the good work that’s being done, but frame it in a way that gives the donor the credit. Tell them how they’re responsible for the amazing things that are happening. How clients' lives are changing because of them. About the good work their dollars are doing. 

This can be a simple tweak of wording. Instead of “This year, we’re proud to report that the animal shelter placed 500 cats and dogs in new homes” try "Thanks to you, 500 cats and dogs now have safe and happy homes.” 

With just a little shift in the choice of words, donors are given a sense of ownership and pride in the work the organization is doing. Let them know how important they are and they’ll be more likely to continue to support the work. 

Simple Changes, Big Results

Incorporating these simple changes into your nonprofit mailings will help your donors to feel like you’re writing directly to them.

Like they’re special. And really, don't we all want to feel special?

These simple changes to your direct mail and emails will strengthen connections between nonprofits and donors and will ultimately lead to donors who are more committed to your cause. 

Are there other ways you’re bringing excitement back to the mailboxes of your donors? I'd love to hear what your organization is doing to make donors feel special in the comments below. 

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