What is it about direct mail for fundraising?

Mail is still the most productive channel for fundraising. More than email, internet, phone, social media, or any other medium you can dream up.

Why? Jerry Huntsinger in his Eighty-Six Tutorials on Creating Fundraising Letters and Packages explains it perfectly:

“… mail-opening in most households is a time of great anticipation, and in many households it represents the high point of the day.

“We are dealing here with a basic conditioned response mechanism because, in the past, mail has brought tremendous, exciting news, and this has happened so often in the life of an individual that each day they have hope that once again something exciting will be left in their mailboxes.

“Have you ever watched a person opening their mail and seen them hold a letter up to the light, especially if it is a check? Have you ever done this yourself? It’s really a little ridiculous not to just go ahead and rip the envelope open and see what’s inside.

“But remember this is a moment of magic; and as you hold that envelope up to the light, you try to imagine what’s inside. It’s as if you were prolonging the anticipation, and you really don’t want that moment of magic to come to an end.”

Mail is the only medium that holds this kind of spell over us, and it’s just as Jerry says: It’s a conditioned response, and it’s ingrained.

Nobody goes to their email inbox and hovers over a subject line in anticipation of what might be in store. Usually, you’re just checking which emails you can delete amid the flood of spam.

Nobody goes onto Facebook with a sense of great anticipation. Mostly, you check social media out of habit as a way to pass the time.

Nobody is struck with wonder when the phone rings. Usually, it’s an inconvenience, especially when it turns out to be a telemarketing call.

Mail is different. It’s personal. It’s timely. It’s even cultural in its significance in our lives, and that’s especially true for the Baby Boomers who make up a large portion of donors for most nonprofits. For many, opening the mail is one of the high points of the day.

This is why it’s never okay to disappoint donors. Mail appeals need to be interesting, shocking, surprising, even exciting. It’s what donors expect, what they look forward to, and certainly what they deserve.

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