Direct Marketing for Nonprofits: Understanding the Essentials

If you're considering direct marketing for your nonprofit, contact the team at AccuData today.

The world of nonprofit fundraising is more competitive than ever before. Behind each essential cause and community in need, is a worthy nonprofit raising gifts on their behalf.

This competitive landscape doesn’t mean your organization should throw in the towel– instead, it’s time to get creative and increase your efforts. Through this guide, we’re going to explore how nonprofits can utilize data-driven marketing tactics to increase donations through direct marketing campaigns.

Let’s begin with a brief overview of direct marketing before exploring how your organization can make the most of the effort.

What is direct marketing for nonprofits?

What is direct marketing for nonprofits?

Direct marketing for nonprofits refers to campaigns in which you send communications directly to donors themselves.

This is a push marketing tactic, an effort that involves communicating directly to the donor. This is contrasted with pull marketing tactics (think: encouraging supporters to share your message with their friends) in which supporters are drawn to your organization by the general messaging surrounding it.

We’re going to discuss two forms of nonprofit direct marketing: Email and Direct Mail. This guide will explore the following points:

Use the above navigation to jump to the point that piques your interest or continue reading for the full guide. Let’s get started.

Explore two types of direct marketing for nonprofits.

Types of Direct Marketing for Nonprofits

Direct email is one type of direct marketing for nonprofits.

Direct Email Marketing for Nonprofits

If you’ve ever signed up for an email list or checked “Yes” when asked if you’re open to receiving future communications and offers, you’ve likely been the recipient of direct email marketing.

For-profit businesses (especially those that sell products and services online), nonprofits, churches, clubs, and many other types of organizations all utilize email marketing in their overall strategy. For now, let’s focus on nonprofit direct email marketing and the different forms that may take.

These are the types of direct email, a type of direct marketing for nonprofits.


Newsletters are generally longer email communications, with the main goal of sharing information (“news”) about your organization and its efforts.

These communications generally contain more than one type of information— such as organization updates, short stories and testimonials, educational content, and even calls-to-action. However, while newsletters are generally longer than the other email communications we’re going to discuss, this doesn’t mean they can just feature long blocks of text and be successful.

Instead, you should also lean on images and links to outside sources (such as blog posts!) to provide more context to your newsletter without overwhelming busy supporters.


With email appeals, you inspire donors to give to your organization. While you may be tempted to rope email appeals in with the overall umbrella of fundraising-related communications, remember that there are a few key aspects that make this type of communication unique.

For starters, we know that nearly 50% of readers spend 15 seconds (or less!) viewing an email after opening. This means that email appeals need to be significantly shorter than the handwritten counterpart. In addition, email appeals are often more direct than other fundraising-adjacent communications (such as newsletters) by pointing to a specific call-to-action, purpose or impact, and even suggested donation amounts.


Advocacy appeals are a broader type of email appeal. These appeals invite supporters to participate in larger advocacy campaigns by giving their time, efforts, and attention to your cause.

Advocacy campaigns often include many ways to get involved, such as volunteering, contacting representatives, and other ways of spreading awareness about a cause. Because there is inherently more information to convey, it’s a great idea to include links to advocacy opportunities and details on your website. If you include all of the information directly in the body of the email, the conversion may be lower.

Explore one popular type of direct marketing for nonprofits: direct mail.

Direct Mail Marketing for Nonprofits

Direct mail marketing refers to sending physical mailings to supporters via the postal service. While many nonprofit efforts are transitioning to digital means, direct mail remains a valuable resource for nonprofits.

Direct mail is a method proven to have a significantly higher return on investment than trending digital methods—with response rates that are often 10x higher than those of digital marketing.

And while the costs are typically higher than online channels, the high ROI and increased engagement levels are well worth it. Plus, by working with a nonprofit-specific direct mail marketing platform like GivingMail, you can minimize your expenses and maximize revenue.

These are the two types of direct mail, which is a type of direct marketing for nonprofits.

There are two main types of direct mail campaigns: Housefile Campaigns and Prospecting Campaigns. Let’s explore both.

Housefile Campaigns

Housefile campaigns are those where you mail information to recognized supporters already in your database. This includes any supporters that have given to your organization— whether it’s tangible donations or volunteer hours— and those that have expressed interest in your organization by opting into your mailing list.

This type of campaign is often recommended as the first step for nonprofits incorporating direct mail, as it has a higher chance of success than prospecting efforts. Then, once you have the resources to continue with direct mail, turn to prospecting campaigns.

Prospecting Campaigns

Prospecting campaigns involve sending mail to prospective supporters that have no pre-established connection to your organization. The goal of this campaign is to connect with those who are most likely to support your organization, inform them about the opportunities to give, and inspire them to do so.

Supporters that are recruited through these campaigns become a part of your nonprofit’s housefile. This is one area where working with a direct marketing agency might be valuable— especially when it comes to discovering and narrowing down your list of prospective households.

Explore these key benchmarks for direct marketing for nonprofits.

Key Email and Direct Mail Fundraising Benchmarks

Some nonprofit professionals extoll the values of pull marketing tactics, such as building relationships with supporters and having a general presence in your community, as the ultimate way to generate support for your nonprofit. We’re not going to argue against the value of these efforts— they’re incredibly beneficial and crucial for long-term success and capacity building!

Explore these statistics surrounding direct marketing for nonprofits.

However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect the power of direct marketing tactics. This is evident in statistics surrounding nonprofit direct mail and email marketing campaigns. For example, cited from Nonprofits Source:

  • It can take 18-20 points of contact to reach a new donor for the first time.
  • Email accounted for 28% of all online fundraising revenue in 2017.
  • 13% of emails are read within 5 minutes, with a 15-18% open rate for nonprofit emails.
  • For every $167 spent on direct mail campaigns in the U.S., the firm receives $2,095 in return.
  • Oversized, direct-mail envelopes have a return on investment of 37%.
  • Campaigns that use direct mail and 1+ digital media elements (such as email) had a 118% increase in response rate when compared to direct mail alone.

These numbers tell us two things: 1) It takes a multi-faceted marketing approach to reach new donors, and 2) A combination of direct mail and email marketing is a great way to do so.

However, it’s important to understand that this success isn’t guaranteed— it’s up to your organization to create a strong direct marketing strategy and measure success along the way. With these campaigns, it’s important to focus on return on investment (ROI) metrics rather than “vanity” metrics (i.e. “number of people engaged”) to truly assess the success of your campaign.

Explore these key benchmarks for direct marketing for nonprofits.

With that in mind, here are a few benchmarks that you can use to assess the success (or less so) of your campaign:

  • The cost to acquire each donor.
  • The average donation amount across donors.
  • The retention rate of donors acquired.
  • The lifetime value of a donor.

According to the Fundraising Report Card, there are a few key trends to look out for when conducting a direct marketing campaign. For example, the cost to acquire a donor should be lower than the average lifetime value of the donors you’re acquiring. Further, the lifetime value of the donors you’re acquiring through direct marketing channels should be as high (or higher) than that of those acquired through other channels. If not, this might not be the most valuable strategy to invest in.

Explore a few best practices for direct marketing for nonprofits.

Direct Marketing for Nonprofits: Best Practices

We’ve covered the basics of direct marketing, including an overview, the types, and the key benchmarks to measure along the way. We’ve even covered the potential for these campaigns, which can be a powerful way for nonprofits to raise gifts!

However, there’s another important aspect to consider: Direct marketing campaigns can be expensive.

Consider the cost of sending one letter and multiply that by the hundreds. The image and text-heavy inserts, the envelopes, the stamps, and the effort to assemble it all— the costs add up! This is why it’s so essential to back your direct marketing campaign with a well-constructed strategy, giving your campaign the best chance of success.

With that in mind, let’s go over a few tips to help your organization format a strong direct marketing strategy.

Our top direct marketing for nonprofits tip is to work with a direct marketing agency.

Our Top Tip: Work With a Direct Marketing Agency

Our first and most prevalent tip is to work with a direct marketing agency that offers nonprofit-specific solutions to formulate your strategy.

It’s easy to forget the impact of data on your direct marketing campaign. You might think that sending out enough emails and letters will achieve a good response rate. However, simply “papering the town” won’t do; it’s essential that every communication you send is going to a prospect or supporter with a high chance of giving to your organization.

Sending out communications haphazardly has two disadvantages:

  1. You’ll waste essential resources creating materials for prospects unlikely to respond.
  2. You risk alienating those who may have supported you, but wouldn’t be receptive to direct marketing communications.

These are the services an agency working in direct marketing for nonprofits might offer.

Before you even begin sending communications, you have to discover the right audience for your direct marketing campaign. The best way to discover this audience is to work with a direct marketing agency. These agencies can:

  • Provide a full suite of targeted data solutions. This includes data hygiene, enhancement, and batch updating services to ensure that you’re building your campaign on accurate information.
  • Conduct wealth screening and fundraising analytics. These services help your organization discover those supporters within your database and the greater community that have the highest capacity and affinity to give.
  • Provide end-to-end campaign management services. This spans from the initial conception of your campaign to the post-campaign reporting and analysis. Whether you’re conducting an email campaign, a direct mailing campaign, or a multichannel campaign, these firms can help.

With the help of a direct marketing agency, you’ll be able to formulate a campaign that will generate a high return on his investment.

Explore these additional best practices for direct marketing for nonprofits.

Additional Email & Direct Mail Fundraising Best Practices

Beyond working with a direct marketing agency to find your audience and formulate your campaign, there are a variety of tips you can use to fortify your direct marketing campaign.

Let’s explore a few of those top tips to ensure your direct marketing efforts are as successful as possible:

  • Explore with different variables in your email and direct mailings. For example, consider varying the subject line and level of personalization in emails. Or, vary the inserts, letter length, and even paperweight of physical mailings.
  • Use a multichannel marketing approach. As we’ve seen, a campaign that utilizes multiple channels for communications— such as email, direct mail, social media, and even paid ads— is more successful than a campaign that uses just one.
  • Prioritize writing a compelling appeal. Remember that the ideal audience and perfectly targeted communications can’t outrun a subpar appeal. Put effort into crafting the ideal messaging and visual to ensure supporters are inspired to give.
  • Honor your donors’ requests. You may encounter supporters that are on “Do Not Mail” lists or that have opted out of your email lists. Respect these preferences, as it’s much better to exclude a supporter from a campaign than annoy them with unwanted communications.

With these tips, you’ll create direct marketing campaigns that not only target prospects likely to give but also engage those supporters. You’ll grow your supporter base and interact with existing ones at the same time!

Direct marketing is a time-proven, effective method for finding new donors, stewarding current donors, and raising more donations for your organization in the long run. Whether you’re conducting a direct mail campaign, a direct email campaign, or (even better) both, you’re sure to find success.

For more data marketing tips, check out the following additional resources:

If your organization is exploring direct marketing for nonprofits, contact AccuData today.

Written by Gabrielle Perham, MBA