Funding Change Consulting Blog Advice

Getting Real About Online Giving: Direct mail’s demise has been greatly exaggerated

Now is no time to give up direct mail

Given the amount of talk you hear about online giving, you’d think a significant amount of donations were being made this way. Not so much…

Even though online giving is on the rise, according to Blackbaud Institute’s “The Next Generation of American Giving,” less than 8% of nonprofit revenue was raised online last year. And that was an all-time high.

Donors across generations still find it more acceptable to be solicited by mail than by email, social media, or text. In fact, Gen Z, our newest generation of givers and those most likely to give online, are the most likely to say that receiving mail from a non-profit is an important way to stay in touch. I know, I was surprised by that, too.

So while the number of people giving online will continue to increase, direct mail is far from dead.

In fact, I believe it’s more important than ever. Here’s why…

  • Direct mail is a big part of what’s driving online giving. You get a letter in the mail and you make your donation online. The mechanism for giving has changed (going online vs mailing a check) but what inspired the gift is still the letter you sent. And this scenario is becoming more common as older donors get more comfortable with technology. If you want to test this out, stop mailing your donors and watch your online revenue tank. Okay, don’t do that. But trust me, that’s how it would go.

Bottom line – don’t buy into the hype about the “fastest growing revenue channel” and abandon the more traditional techniques. It’s all connected!

A well-executed fundraising campaign built around direct mail that pushes donors online and utilizes follow-up through email and social media has the greatest chance for success.

So what does this mean for your fundraising program? Here are my recommendations…

  • Communicate with supporters using as many channels as possible. Even if someone gives online, don’t stop mailing to them. If you get a new donor who spontaneously makes a gift online, use mail and phone to connect when it comes time to ask them to renew their support.
  • Integrate your communications and messaging. Whatever you’re sending in the mail should mirror what’s on your website and social media. If different staff or different departments are responsible for your direct mail communication and your website or social media, they must be coordinating closely with each other. The more consistent you are across channels, the more successful your fundraising will be.
  • Test your online donation form. Or better yet, have someone outside your organization test. Ideally, an older someone! Have them make a donation while you observe their process. Don’t help; just watch and make notes of what you see. Ask them for feedback when they’re done. Make changes based on their experience.
  • Make sure your communications are mobile-friendly. It’s part of being donor-friendly. Your website, your donation form, your emails…they should all be tested on multiple devices using different browsers to ensure a positive experience for your supporters.
  • Never forget the relationship. Donor stewardship is always most important, regardless of how the supporter gives. So thank them personally and promptly, make sure they know they’re making a difference, and report back on the impact of their gift.

It may not be new or sexy or exciting but it works.


Tina Cincotti, owner of Funding Change, is a donor communications expert and general nonprofit nerd.
October 30, 2018

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