Posted October 1st, 1997

How To Plan a “Successful” Mailing

Was your last planned gift promotional effort successful? Before you go wading through your files to pull out last quarter’s results, think about what those spreadsheets really tell you about the mailing. You probably know the number of responses, but do you know if the responses were mostly general requests for information inquiries or highly qualified prospects? Are you sure that those who received the mailing were the best possible candidates for the subject matter? A “successful mailing” is always a relative term that depends on pre-established goals. Here are some tips to help you accomplish your goals with your next effort.

Are you working from a clean list?

One of the most important aspects of a mailing is who receives it. If you want prompt replies from donors interested in planning bequests and deferred gifts, your list should consist of donors in middle- to upper-age ranges. Be careful not to remove donors from your list due to the small size of their gifts. The amount they have given is generally not as important as the length and frequency of their giving.

What is your subject?

Be specific when it comes to the subject matter of your mailing. Remember that some mailings will have broader appeal than others. For example, mailings on wills and bequests and, most recently, gift annuities usually generate a greater number of responses than mailings on more technical gift plans because of their appeal to a broad group of donors. On the other hand, people who respond to mailings about less familiar gift planning vehicles may have a greater capability to seriously consider a major gift.

Consider the contents

Mailing packages vary greatly. Two of the most important elements in any mailing are the carrier envelope and the response device. The outer envelope is the first element of the mailing a donor will see. Make the envelope appear as important as possible, and preferably look like a piece of quality business correspondence.

The response device you include should be easy for the donor to use. If you make it difficult for the reader to respond, fewer will take the trouble. Common problems include giving the donor too many choices, resulting in confusion, lack of space for older persons to write legibly, and not including a postage-paid reply envelope. Not only is the postage-paid envelope very convenient, it offers the confidentiality that is very important to many donors.

Are you looking for quality or quantity?

Before you mail, decide exactly what you would like your mailing to accomplish. Is your goal to find 100 donors who have a mild interest in gift planning? Or perhaps you would prefer 5 responses from committed donors who have already made a bequest or other planned gift commitment or possess the desire and capability to make such a gift?

Either outcome could be seen as “successful” depending on your objectives. One way to define your goals is to consider your situation. For example, do you have the staff available to phone and visit respondents? Be careful not to take on more response than you can handle, but continue to challenge yourself and other staff members. Once you have defined your goals, then you can choose mailing materials and lists to help you reach them.

A successful mailing means different things to different organizations. Every constituency is unique, so beware of comparing your results to those achieved by others who may be working under very different circumstances. Determine your success by testing against your own best results to date.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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