thankQ Resources

Secrets of a good fundraising direct mail appeal

We are approaching a year of on and off lock down with no immediate end in sight. Like it or not, that means you’re going to be spending more time online. Remote working, social media, video chats, family zoom calls, happy hour games, virtual museum tours… So much of our daily lives has become about the digital world. It can be hard to escape. And, as much as the digital world has its merits, the fatigue it can bring is very real. That’s why we think this year, we will see more and more nonprofits mix digital with traditional and embrace the world of direct mail fundraising.

Want to make your fundraising appeal shine? Here are a few trade secrets to help:

First, you need to find the right ‘frame’

Every campaign should start with a concept, a frame. This is the hook, your way into people’s hearts. Don’t try and do everything in one appeal. Pick an area of work, a single project, person, message, or goal to be the foundation of your campaign. Use this to frame your ask. It will give you a beginning, a reason for your middle, and the motivation for supporters to take action at the end. It is the bow that ties your campaign together.


A good fundraising direct mail appeal should be part of a broader (multi-channel) fundraising campaign. This means that when it lands, you need to make sure that the rest of your communications are set up to match. Test each channel before you go live. Does your donation page, website, and social media reflect your campaign message? If you want to inspire donations, you need to take people on a journey, and reinforce your campaign at every touch point they have.

Take the time to tell a real story

Numbers and stats are great for grant applications, but direct mail fundraising should always put the story first. You’re not writing to your donors as an organization, you are writing to them as a person. Remember that. It will help you create a personal connection and shared experience. It will help your donor empathize with the situation and show them how their support can make a difference.

To do this, you need to think about who the person is and the story they will tell.  And, it’s probably not your CEO. You need someone your audience can relate to. Cast your net wide. Is there a benefactor you can interview, or even better, ask to work with you to develop your draft? Authenticity is the key here. People give to people. So, take the time to tell a real story, and do it well.


We know you want to raise money, but this should never be done at the expense of twisting or changing someone’s story to meet your needs. It can be very easy when you’re working in direct mail, to put words into someone’s mouth, or to tell the story as you think it should be told. But it’s not your story, it’s their life. As a sector, we have a responsibility to share stories ethically and responsibly, so work with your donors and benefactors to create a narrative that raises their voice and doesn’t just work to amplify yours.  

Punctuate your appeal with regular ‘asks’

There is no point telling a beautiful story if you do not have a clear call to action. The ‘ask’ is an essential part of direct mail fundraising, so don’t just leave it until the end. Your ask should appear several times throughout your mailing – at least once on the first page, and then at chosen points in your appeal content. There’s a careful balance to strike here. Overdo it, and you risk sounding ‘salesy’. Don’t do it enough, and you might miss out on an important gift.


If you’re going to ask someone for money, you need to be clear about what you’re asking for. Tell people what their donation can help achieve and give tangible examples for each donor giving level. If you’ve got a fundraising CRM (like thankQ) you could even use it to generate gift amounts that reflect an individual’s giving history. But remember, always leave space for donors to input their own amount. You never know when someone might be feeling extra generous!

Don’t forget about the envelope

It might seem pointless, given that all envelopes are destined for the recycling bin, but your envelope could be what stops your whole mailer from ending up there. You’ve got seconds, literally seconds, to catch someone’s interest. The words and design on your outer envelope matter. Use them to draw people in.


When you’re busy riding the ups and downs of the pandemic, you might think that a handwritten envelope is the very last thing you – or your team – has time to do. Hear us out. Clearly, if you’re writing to thousands of supporters, it’s not practical. But it doesn’t mean you can’t cherry-pick a few long-term or high-value supporters to write to personally. Think about it, with so much done digitally at the moment, people don’t get a lot of direct mail, let alone handwritten ones. And that makes them far more likely to open it.  

Think response devices

We don’t know about you, but for us the novelty of binge-watching is starting to wear off and we’re on the lookout for new projects and activities (for us, and the kids!). Could your direct mail appeal help with that? Adding a response device is a great way to encourage donor engagement and create new opportunity for continued conversations. Imagine if you collected hundreds of support messages? The social media posts and newsletter article write themselves.


Why not go beyond the traditional paper-based response device and ask people to get involved digitally? It’s easy to snap and share photos on social media, and user-generated content (UGC) will help engage users, build a community and raise the profile of your fundraising campaign.

Always, always, always write to a person

Whatever you do, make sure you write to a person. Fair enough if you don’t have their name. But if you do, there is absolutely no excuse not to use it. That’s just the start. People have lives, and most people’s lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. Recognize this, you wouldn’t start a conversation with a friend without checking in and asking how they are. The same rule applies to direct mail fundraising. Humanize it.


One size does not fit all, and if you really want to personalize your appeal you need to segment your data and create different templates for different audience groups. A fundraising CRM will help segment your donors (think demographics, donor giving levels and history). You don’t need separate appeals for each one. But you do need to create different versions of selected paragraphs and asks. One that works for each group.

There you have it. The secret to a good charity direct mail appeal. Now all you need to do is get it in the mail!

thankQ CRM can help you get the most out of your marketing and fundraising efforts.  Contact us to see how. Set up your personalized demo today.