Need New Direct Mail Donors? Look For These Three Qualities For Fundraising Letter Success

Alan Sharpe

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New donors are a lot closer than you may think. And persuading them to make that vital first donation need not be as hard—or as expensive—as acquiring them in other ways.

But before you rent a list of names or drop anything in the mail, examine the people you are approaching with your direct mail appeal to make sure they are good prospects for a donation today—and tomorrow. You should look for three qualities in potential direct mail donors.

1. Capacity to give
Good direct mail fundraising prospects have the resources to support your organization with gifts. They do not need to be millionaires (since you will accept small donations). They do not even need to be employed (since many pensioners donate a portion of their fixed income to their favourite charities). The criteria you are looking for is simply the capacity to give.

2. Affinity with your cause
The best prospects have a natural liking for your organization. They identify with the people you help or the cause that you champion. You are more likely to attract financial support and gain new donors when you mail your acquisition letters to people who already believe in what you stand for.

3. Long-term, profitable relationship
Raising funds through the mail is a long-term proposition. What you are looking for is donors who will support you over time. One-time donations are welcome, of course, but if they are too small they do not even cover the cost of acquisition. You want donors, not just donations.

One reason that charity sweepstakes and lotteries are such an expensive way to raise funds is that they tend to raise money in the short-term only, and do not attract long-term, faithful, loyal donors who are committed to your cause.

So you need to look at every source of potential donors and ask yourself this question, “What is the likelihood that these prospects will not only respond to my mailing with a gift now, but will also follow through in the years to come with others gifts?”

One mistake to avoid
One mistake that inexperienced fundraisers make is thinking that their best prospects for direct mail appeals are big businesses and well-known, wealthy people. When they think of who to mail their appeals to, they immediately think of Bill Gates of Microsoft—not Bob Gates down the street. They think of extraordinary businesses—not the ordinary business owners that operate all around them.

This is a mistake because it concentrates attention on only one obvious criteria of donor acquisition—capacity to give—and ignores the other two.

Take Bill Gates by way of example. He meets your first criteria, since he is the wealthiest man in the world. He has the capacity to give you a donation, the largest you’ve ever received. But if your organization is at all typical, Bill Gates has little or zero affinity with your cause and does not even know about you. Which means Bill Gates is not a long- term prospect, or even a prospect at all, for a direct mail solicitation.

So the thing to bear in mind whenever you are looking for new donors is that they should meet all three of the above criteria. They should not just be wealthy (with no affinity). And not just have an affinity (they may believe in your cause but be bankrupt). When potential donors pass all three tests, you will avoid disappointment, and save a lot of money in donor acquisition and donor renewal costs.

About the author
Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor and mentor who helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters, and sign up for free weekly tips like this at


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