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The Payoff for Nonprofits

It helps to use the right tool for the job, and there can often be multiple options on the table. The most effective and efficient tool to use may be clear-cut in some situations, but not so much in others.

Sometimes the number of options considered depends on the environment, the task and the desired results. For instance, if you wanted thinly sliced tomato for a sandwich, a sharp knife would certainly be your best choice. However, if the desired result were a mashed tomato for sauce, then a hammer would work, although it would be a bit messier. In this case, the tomato is the environment, breaking down the tomato is the task, and for it to be in slices or mashed are the desired results. The knife would also work to break down the tomato for sauce, and would likely be most peoples’ choice in both situations. Though, this demonstrates which tool is truly best for the task of breaking down the tomato is more clearly defined based the desired results.

Whether it’s in the kitchen, in life, or in business, we are all after the same goal…to be successful. Being successful may mean different things to different people and in different contexts, but achieving that goal often involves tools, resources and strategies.

These days there are many options to choose from when it comes to marketing channels–TV, radio, direct mail, billboards, web ads, email, social media, etc. And, there can be several options within each one of those categories. Social media marketing can involve Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google posts as well as web videos and website content. Which of these to use, again depends on our environment, task, and desired results.

Most businesses operate within a common environment. This environment usually involves the same tools, resources, and strategies. The tools are the various marketing channels. The resources refer to a business’ ability to deploy those tools and the size of the market itself. The strategy is the planned process of applying these resources to certain tools. All of this effort comes down to performing a task (marketing or fundraising) to achieve desired results (sales or donations) in a given environment (B2C, B2B, or nonprofit organization).

Most nonprofits have one thing in common…profit. They need to bring in money or resources enough to at least cover whatever it is they provide as an organization minus expenses–with the addition that all excess profit goes toward the cause. In the standard B2C or B2B model this is achieved by selling a product or service to the consumer or other business. In a nonprofit model this is achieved by selling the promise of the service or product that the organization provides for others. One of the aspects that make the transaction for nonprofit organizations different from for-profit businesses is that there is often no product exchanged for the donation. Since the primary function of fundraising is typically just for the organization to receive monies, the ability to accommodate this transaction becomes an important factor in choosing a marketing channel.

The marketing channel that accommodates this for many nonprofits is direct mail. Direct mail has several benefits that no other marketing channel can match. Direct mail is tangible. It has the ability to connect through a sense of touch. The physical element of paper, textures, and the basic experience of holding something and reading text by reflected light versus reading off a glowing screen all contribute to a feeling of honesty–a feeling of something real, of something that can be trusted. Direct mail has proven itself as the most trusted form of marketing time and time again. Quickly establishing trust with a potential donor is very important. The donor needs all the reassurance possible that the organization does what they say and that the donor’s money will be used wisely.

Direct mail also offers a lot of real estate. An organization can mail out a newsletter or booklet with in-depth stories and information about their cause for a fraction of the cost of TV. And, unlike TV, radio or the web, the audience can be qualified on an incredibly detailed level. This means the organization can get their message directly in the hands of someone that has shown interest in their cause and/or may meet the appropriate demographics.

Besides the physical effectiveness, real estate, and targetable aspects, direct mail offers a mechanism to send money to the organization. Nonprofit direct mail appeals usually include a reply card that a donor can fill out with their information and payment method. A courtesy reply envelope (postage paid by sender/donor) or a business reply envelope (postage paid by receiver/nonprofit org.) is also typically included in the outgoing mailing. This mechanism provides a level of convenience for the recipient. An online method of donating can also be included so the recipient has a secondary call-to-action in case they don’t have checks or stamps readily available. For this reason, a BRE (business reply envelope) is recommended. Though the postage is higher and at the expense of the nonprofit, the convenience for the donor and the additional contributions usually outweigh the cost.

According to a 2017 report from the Data & Marketing Association (, direct mail can have a median ROI of 29%, much higher than paid search ads.1 Nonprofits shouldn’t ignore the other marketing channels though. When direct mail is used in conjunction with email marketing or digital ads, response rates can increase up to 118%.2

Direct mail can be a highly effective marketing tool for any business and is particularly well suited for nonprofits due to its ability to establish trust and give the recipient multiple ways to respond. To get the most out of your marketing dollar, and hopefully receive the most dollars for your cause, consider a marketing campaign that includes direct mail as a companion to your digital efforts.,