Direct Mail Fundraising

Like most efforts to raise money, direct mail fundraisers emphasize giving, an important, human responsibility. "He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor" (Proverbs 22:9). Non-profit organizations depend on giving to survive. They use a number of means to increase giving, one of the most popular being direct mail fundraising. Non-profits use the U.S. Postal Service to deliver letters and other forms of communication to encourage donor pledges and support. Despite the rise of the Internet, this remains, by far, one of the most effective ways to raise money today. Interestingly, raising money through the mail involves far more than a letter and a stamp. The approach and presentation of the mailing is extremely important to the pledge response. Although every organization's results are different, there are common trends in responses with the use of certain types of mailings. Any organization, small or large, can benefit from support mailings after testing the waters and finding out what approach is most effective.

Every non-profit organization has to plead their case to potential supporters. Most Americans just won't remember to give on their own and have to be prompted with a letter of reminder. Direct mail fundraisers usually involve a letter with just this purpose. The letter typically states what the non-profit does, previous successes, current projects and how the donor can help. Typically, there is something specific that they are raising funds for, a particular campaign. Specifics tend to raise more funds because people want to know exactly what their money is supporting. This is why many mailings will also include statistics or a budget breakdown for the organization. The more information the supporter has in hand, the more comfortable the potential supporter will feel making a large donation. The overall direct mail fundraising goal, however, is not just to increase the average pledge, but to increase the number of donors.

Increasing the number of supporters involves some tactics that few people would think matter. The very look of the envelope used in direct mail fundraising actually corresponds with the amount of pledges and the number of donors. Testing has showed that between a plain, white envelope and a decorated envelope, the plain white envelope actually results in greater donor response. Although a decorated envelope with graphics is attractive and eye-catching, most people pay more attention to the plain envelope because it seems more personalized. It looks far less like a solicitation, and therefore, they are more likely to open it and read the contents. The same can even be said for the form of postage used in direct mail fundraisers. People tend to have an increased response when organizations use actual stamps on the response envelope versus Postage Paid stamps. Again, a personal touch seems to create a greater response.

Unfortunately, to make money, you have to spend money. Fundraising is never a free effort. Whether the organization throws a gala, conducts direct mail fundraisers or holds an auction, there are costs attributed to the campaign effort. Direct mail fundraising involves the cost of letterhead, envelopes, printing, postage and any other special, additional mailing. The goal of the should be to make the campaign as cost-effective as possible. Plain envelopes versus decorated ones not only save on printing costs, but increase donors and pledges. Actual stamps cost more than prepaid postage, but the results can often balance out the extra cost. Some will spend extra money and offer a special gift or premium to potential supporters, regardless of whether or not they give. Premiums are usually complementary calendars, note cards or other stationary and only cost a few dimes each, but the response tends to even out the cost. Many non-profits will send an initial letter asking for donations and promising the arrival of a special gift in a few weeks. Response tends to increase after the premium mailing.

Before a non-profit organization, large or small, takes on direct mail fundraising, it is wise to test their tactics to see what is most effective. If the non-profit plans to mail letters to 2,500 potential donors, they should start by sending letters only to 250 potential donors to test the different approaches. Although there are trends in direct mail fundraisers, every organization tends to see different results. They should send out half of their mailings in one form, i.e. plain envelope with actual stamp, and the other half in another form such as graphics envelope with paid postage. By logging responses and calculating the number of donors and average amount of pledges, they can determine which tactic will be most effective for the rest of their campaign. In addition to keeping records, Christian groups should pray about their work towards gaining support. It will take some trial and error, but a little research will go a long way in running a cost-effective fundraising campaign.

Internet Fundraising

Internet fundraising is the latest means being employed to raise funds for just about any kind of group or project, and since so many of our citizens are computer literate, it is an easy way to reach fundraising goals. Online auctions are one of the newest online fundraising ideas. The online company that promotes the auctions also provides the means to create your own customized auction home page and catalog. Since so many people communicate through e-mails already, it's easy to contact friends and family and ask them to bid on the items being auctioned off. After the auction ends, a percentage of the proceeds go to the company, and the group retains nearly 90% of the proceeds. The group is invoiced after the auction is concluded, so there are no costs upfront, and the profit margin is higher than with some products that are sold.

Food products are among the best online fundraising ideas. A group can sell candy bars for the chocoholics, fresh baked cookies made from cookie dough mixes bought online (or sell the cookie dough and let people make their own), or cheesecake. That's enough to satisfy the sweet tooth of just about anyone. Of course, there are other food items purchased online that sell well too: Beef jerky, beef sticks, and sausage sticks are popular. And that isn't the end of online fundraising ideas.

Going a completely different direction with Internet fundraising, a group could choose to sell flower bulbs and seeds (guaranteed to grow and bloom), or scratch and help cards. For those unfamiliar with the scratch and help cards, they are a combination of scratch-off numbers and coupons for items from nationally known companies. The contributor scratches off two or three numbers on the card and make his contribution based on the total of the numbers he has uncovered. His contribution buys a page of coupons that are good for a year. The coupons are good for a variety of items from a discount on pizza to a car lube job.

Selling magazines or children's books are among the Internet fundraisers one can find on the Internet, or candles to fill a home with pleasing fragrances. CDs of popular music can be offered in a sale to earn money for a group, or gourmet coffees, or seasonal items such as gift-wrap and greeting cards. It's easy to see that online fundraising ideas are so diverse that it's hard to imagine a group being unable to find something that would fit its needs. Money is necessary in our economy, and every group or person needs it. However, as Christians we are reminded by scripture that there other things more important. "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." (Joshua 1:8)

For some groups, the online fundraising ideas that appeal to them are event oriented. Walk-a-thons or marathon runs, or athlet-a-thons highlighting the talents of local athletes are appropriate. Contributions based on the number of turns on the stadium track, baskets scored, or bowling pins knocked down will usually spark spectator interest as well as contributions, and providing tee shirts commemorating the event is another online fundraising idea to help the group meet its goal through Internet fundraising.

Online fundraiser ideas include tips on how to conduct a good campaign for raising money. Successful Internet fundraising requires the same planning as any other fundraising efforts. Even before looking into online fundraiser ideas, the group should set clear goals as to how much they need to raise, and exactly what project the money is going to be used for. People are more willing to give when they know the money is going to send the youth group on a mission trip, or new bleachers are needed for the football stadium. Set a firm date for the beginning of the campaign after making sure it won't conflict with another group in the area. Keep the campaign as short as possible, and have several collection dates set up with the team members. Of course, everything about the campaign should be in writing for the team members, and enough meetings to be sure everyone understands the procedures to be followed.

The Internet fundraising company providing the product may provide advance publicity in the form of brochures and flyers, but if they do not provide suitable material, the group will have to provide its own. Flyers distributed around town at business sites will bring the upcoming event to the attention of the public. Newspaper ads and local radio announcements may be appropriate as well. A publicity chairman should be assigned to oversee this part of the campaign. A treasurer will take care of the collections, and keep track of the progress toward the goal that has been set. Communication with participants is overall the most important part of a fundraising project.

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