Direct Mail Solicitation in Five (Easy) Steps

Think back to the last time something in the mailbox made you act. Maybe it was an offer that you just couldn’t pass up. Ask yourself—what caused you to take action? Something had to catch your eye in the first place to get you to read that special offer.

Now it’s time to build a direct mail piece that has the same outcome. But even if you have the best offer, there’s much more that goes into a direct mail piece to make it effective.

Keep in mind that we don’t use the term “easy” lightly around here (hence the parentheticals in our title). You’ll still need to put in the work to reap the rewards of your efforts. However, breaking it into these steps will make it a much easier and smoother process.


Step One: Understand Direct Mail

In order to succeed at something, you must first fully understand what it is. Direct mail is a printed promotional piece that arrives in your literal mailbox, not the virtual one we’ve come to embrace. That’s what makes it special and unique.

Start by checking out these general tips from one of our favorite direct mail experts.

Remember that this is a direct mail solicitation, which usually means asking for money; but it could also involve a variety of other asks such as seeking volunteers or simply continued support without a formal ask.


The Value: Your success rate skyrockets when you fully understand the process and what your main goal is with the direct mail piece. Make every effort to understand what your concept is and what you hope to get out of it.


Step Two: Catch Their Eye

If you’re mailing a plain old white envelope, the odds of catching somebody’s eye are minimal. Think different shapes, sizes and colors. It doesn’t have to be two-dimensional – although three-dimensional will cost more to mail, it could be worth the return and “wow” factor.

While gaudy colors can work in some cases, be careful to stick with your branding to avoid confusion (and tackiness). Bright colors are great, but you’ll want to make sure you’re conveying the right message. Check out this list of what different colors evoke for your direct mail recipients. Send the right message.


The Value: This is your first impression, so make it count! Think outside the box (or rather… push the envelope) and you’ll be rewarded tenfold. This step is the equivalent to getting your foot in the door.


Step Three: Peak Their Interest

It’s time to craft your message. Pique your receiver’s interest with killer copy. It should be concise, clear and to the point. You’ll have limited space, so make every word count. Keep the purpose of your mail piece in mind that we discussed in step one.

Consider using a short, bold statement before getting into the smaller, fine-print details. Think of it as sort of headline or teaser. You only have a few seconds to peak the interest before you get into the meat of your message.

Don’t peak their interest for the wrong reasons. For example, you’ll need to make a list and check it more than twice. Nothing ruins a direct mail piece faster than a misspelled name – that’ll earn you an automatic trashcan toss.


The Value: Words have the power to invoke action and leave a lasting impression. With the right phrases and copy, you’ll get your donors to keep reading the important stuff.


Step Four: Capture Their Heart

In this case, it’s very much about what you say AND how you say it. While we’re talking communications, let’s call on expert Tom Ahern. He suggests that we’re telling the reader’s story, not our own. Tell your recipients how they have made an impact on your mission and what specifically they’ve done and made possible.

Speak from your heart and you’re sure to capture theirs. Honesty and trust will go a long way.


The Value: By talking about how much your constituents do for you instead of how great the organization is, you’re making your donors and volunteers feel as valuable as they really are. When they feel good, they want to keep coming back.

Step Five: Invoke Action

The final portion of a direct mail campaign is to get the person to act. Include your call-to-action somewhere on the piece. This is VITAL. Even if the call-to-action is simply sending them to a landing page on your site where they can learn more, send them somewhere and ask them to do something.

The Value: At this point, hopefully your nonprofit has at least piqued the interest and captured the attention of a potential supporter, no matter the solicitation. Your direct mail piece isn’t going to turn them into a supporter if they aren’t yet, but it will help speed up the process. That’s why your call-to-action is so valuable.


What other questions do you have about direct mail appeals? Ask them in the comment section below and let’s get the conversation started.


direct mail

Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

June 20, 2016

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