Fundraising, Part 8: Faith-based groups count on direct mail

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This article is from a report written for Blackbaud, which asked me to look at fundraising strategies that nonprofits have found to be effective.]

In the faith-based market, direct mail, online strategies and Christian radio have proven effective in acquiring donors, says Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, a Dallas-based consulting firm that works with 50 faith-based organizations in six countries.

Effective direct mail strategies are focused on acquisition, conversion and personalization, he says.

Acquisition includes renting targeted lists that are “populated with people we know through profiles that show the kinds of donors that would support the organization,” he says.

Those lists need to be tested through “packages” that may tweak the wording on the envelope or reply card, or try different pieces of packaging “to see what will motivate the donors to actually give,” Dunham says.

Conversions also are important and represent a strategy “where most organizations fall or don’t do well at all,” he says.

“They think that because a new supporter has given them a gift, they’re actually a donor to the organization,” he says. “All it means is they gave a gift. It doesn’t mean they’re a supporter.”

But studies show “you don’t really have a bona fide donor until the third gift,” he says.

His firm’s strategy is for its clients to “have a specific communication pathway we take a new donor on to encourage that second gift,” he says.

Those communications are personalized and include a combination of direct mail and telephone, as well as online communications if a donor’s email address is available.

Finally, effective direct mail requires “ongoing cultivation and retention, using direct mail and newsletters to keep a donor engaged, inspired and supporting the organization.”

His firm’s clients typically send out a mailing every month, with some clients also distributing a print newsletter each month.

Many of those clients also generate “online touch points,” providing online news and information about the organization’s impact, for example, or testimonials of people whose lives the organization has affected.

To develop major donors, nonprofits should use a combination of offline and online contact, and direct mail letters, with the “messaging really geared for a major donor relationship,” Dunham says.

“You assume the individual will continue to support you because they are a major donor and heavily invested,” he says. “So the character of the letter is not to convince them to give but to demonstrate the impact of their giving.”

In their fundraising, nonprofits should recognize that “people don’t care about your organization,” Dunham says. “What they care about is what your organization does and the impact it makes.”

So rather than focusing its communication with donors “around the needs of the organization,” nonprofits should focus on “the potential impact in the life of the individual, and emphasizing and demonstrating that,” he says.

“At the end of the day, we’re all relational beings, and donors have emotional relationships to organizations and causes they represent,” he says. “As with any good relationship, the frequency and regularity of communication has everything to do with building a good relationship, along with the content of the communication.”

Next: Independent school partners with parent volunteers

The series:

Fundraising, Part 1: Basics key as economy starts to recover

Fundraising, Part 2: Health care groups invest in development capacity

Fundraising, Part 3: Human services groups focus on direct response marketing

Fundraising, Part 4: Museums aim to diversify donor base

Fundraising, Part 5: Major gifts a focus of environmental group

Fundraising, Part 6: Direct marketing a key for public society benefit group

Fundraising, Part 7: International affairs group aims to show

Fundraising, Part 8: Faith-based groups count on direct mail

Fundraising, Part 9: Independent school partners with parent volunteers

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