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Direct Mail and Digital Ideas to Bring in New Donors

Seth Merritt Seth Merritt Senior Digital Account Manager
Meredith Piemme Meredith Piemme Business Development Director
Avi Kaplan Avi Kaplan Director of Project Management, PS Digital
As seen in the March 2018 edition of DMAW’s AdVents newsletter. 

Many nonprofits are looking to mail smarter, especially in our current climate of uncertainty coupled with rising print and postage costs. In some cases, that may mean mailing less, either through careful list segmentation or potentially culling lapsed or expired donors. However, in other instances, “smarter” means they are searching for something fresh and different to help grow their donor file: enter the acquisition package. Which begs the question; what IS working for today’s direct mail acquisitions? Here are a few options worth a test:

  1. Get Festive: An ornament package offers unique donor engagement with a crafty insert sporting dual die cut and foil stamped snowflake ornaments. The prospective donor is asked to write a special message on one ornament, which is then sent back to the organization to be placed on a Christmas tree; the second ornament on the insert is for the donor to keep. This package also utilizes full color variable data imprinting on the letter, allowing for strategic personalization.
  2. The Blind OE: Who would have thought a blind OE would continue to generate so much buzz? We tested just that, along with powerful color photography, a simple and compelling letter, and a large fold out map showing key program implementation with quantifiable statistics and a chart outlining how funds are used. This last piece is supported by the first insert in the package, a buckslip with a list of several top charity rankings for the organization. Thereby earning the potential donors trust before they even get to rest of the package.
  3. Premium Packaging: Though there is much discussion around the inclusion of upfront premiums, a client of ours tested an outstanding and well-performing upfront premium package in 2017. This thoughtfully designed lumpy mailer includes a personal letter from a current staff member, informational insert, and reply, but what sets it apart is the tote bag and outer mailer. The extra dimension of the mail piece is sure to garner attention from the recipient (an astonishing .5” thick)! The mailer is also outfitted with strong teasers as well as a call to action on the back: “Support us by using this tote bag and spreading the word.” The mailer and tote, together with the personal appeal and right ask string, has made for a successful test.

This is not to say that tried and true packages are not performing. Along with these tests, we are still observing a heavy rotation of the 9×12 wrapping paper package, bookmark packages, postcard packages and an array of perf-out membership cards. Full color OEs, closed face, window and double windowed envelopes are still in circulation.

Now, digital acquisition is a whole other ball game! With the digital world growing and donors constantly interacting online, it only makes sense to target your audience there too, right? From a digital perspective, here are our top strategies for focusing in on acquisition:

Optimize user experience on your website.
This strategy is all about deepening engagement with the people whose attention you’ve already captured. If I’m on your website for the first time, put your best foot forward to invite me to sign up to your communications or even donate.

  • Assess the state of your organic list growth. According to the 2017 M+R Benchmark study, on average, 1.1% of website visitors joined a nonprofit’s email list. If your website’s conversion rate is lower than 1%, make a pitch for visitors to sign up for your email newsletters
  • Leverage your landing pages. Monitor traffic patterns, identify organic landing pages, and optimize for conversion
  • Repackage your content. Is there high-interest content you are currently providing that could be packaged into a resource document behind a registration page?
  • Optimize sign-up forms. Test your email sign up forms! Try different locations on the page
  • Deploy Lightboxes. Adding a lightbox across your site or even just on on your most trafficked pages is a great way to make the case for subscribing or giving to more of your engaged visitors
  • Optimize for mobile visitors. Ensure that your website is mobile responsive and creates a positive user experience for users on all types of devices and screen sizes


  • Retarget site visitors. It’s okay to politely follow your visitors around and remind them that the warm, fuzzy feeling they are really looking for is only a click away. Segmentation is critical to making this tactic effective
  • Abandoned Shopping Cart Recovery. Cartstack (abandoned cart recovery) and similar technologies can recover revenue that might be inadvertently lost if a donor is interrupted during a donation transaction
  • Digital append on your direct mail list. Think about how to add your direct mail subscribers to your email list. Be thoughtful about how you warm these addresses up, monitor their engagement, and be prepared to segment them out if they don’t respond
  • Win Back your Inactive Subscribers. Before you give up entirely on them, re-engage your inactive subscribers by developing a win-back campaign, leveraging your most popular content and low-impact calls to action

Acquisition Advertising
In digital acquisition, the highest ROI is generally seen when aiming for lead generation, rather than adding new donors straight to your file.

  • Email is still the coin of the realm. According to the Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report (Dec 2017), the value of an email address is more than $13 in annual revenue
  • Look-Alike Audiences: Using a Facebook custom audience uploaded with your current email list, this Facebook targeting option allows you to target users with interests, demographics, and other characteristics similar to your current subscribers
  • Messenger Bots (@mssg): @Mssg is a platform that has found success engaging nonprofit audiences through conversations initiated with advertising and facilitated with messenger bots
  • Paid Search Advertising: the much-vaunted Google Ad Grants program has seen major changes in recent months, making it imperative for most organizations to use a regular paid AdWords account

While the strategies for acquisition in direct mail may differ from digital marketing, it is imperative to implement integrated multi-channel campaigns. Reach out to the team at Production Solutions today to find out more on which acquisition tactics can help you engage more donors and ultimately earn more for your cause!

About the Author

Seth Merritt
Seth Merritt Senior Digital Account Manager

Seth has over 15 years’ experience helping causes use technology to connect with supporters and succeed. His experience includes digital marketing, fundraising, strategic consulting, project management, writing, grassroots organizing, and CRM/SaaS technology adoption. Along the way he has been privileged to work with national and local nonprofits, trade associations, citizen advocacy groups, political campaigns, technology startups, and Fortune 100 corporations. He lives with his wife and two children in Williamsburg, VA.

Meredith Piemme
Meredith Piemme Business Development Director

Meredith, a passionate team player, is a Business Development Director serving PS since 2018. Meredith has over 20 years of experience in graphic design and print, and over 10 years of experience in the direct mail and nonprofit industry. Meredith has a determination to ensure that each of her clients have an impeccable service experience. Her kindness and humor, and her ambition for investing in success are just some of the reasons why Meredith promotes such value in the PS family. 

Hailing from Centreville, Virginia, she loves spending time with her family, traveling, and is an Orange Theory Fitness devotee. Her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and she has a love-hate relationship with her minivan! 

Avi Kaplan
Avi Kaplan Director of Project Management, PS Digital

Avi is an expert digital marketing and technology strategist with over ten years of experience producing digital campaigns, engagement strategies, websites, and complex applications for nonprofits and social causes. He has led successful projects with nonprofit clients including American Red Cross, Ceres, Union of Concerned Scientists, Hillel International, Auburn Seminary, and others. Avi is interested in how organizations can invest in creative content and analytics to maximize digital, mobile, and social engagement. He has presented for the Nonprofit Technology Conference, BridgeCon, TechSoup, and the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference. He lives and explores in Washington DC with his wife Rella and son Ronen.