5 direct response best practices (and 1 busted myth)

5 direct response best practices(and 1 busted

In my nearly 9 years in fundraising, I’ve been hearing this myth. Maybe you’ve heard it, too. It’s this intangible thing… this concept… this idea…

Best practice.

“Best practice” is defined by Wikipedia as “a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark”.

Have you heard this myth, too? It’s a myth because we hear about it so much, but we rarely see it in actual practice. Why? Budget, time, other resources? There are myriad reasons why, but it seems a shame, because all of the “best practice” ideas sound so great.

Guess what I’ve learned in the 5.5 weeks in my new job? Best practice is not a myth!

I always wondered, what can an agency do that a charity can’t do internally? Now that I’m on the agency side, I realize: A LOT. Hiring an agency to do your direct mail, for example, is a big investment, but the return is huge.

Why? Best practice.

You put in the resources – at least financial – and the agency takes your time (mostly) out of the equation. The agency does the work, and since that’s their sole business, they have the time and resources to make sure the output follows best practices.

What are best practices? Let me share my five favourites – that I’ve learned so far – with you!

#1: STORIES — Donors don’t want to hear much about you. You, the fundraiser, and you, the organization. They want to hear stories. They want to hear about people; people their generous donations supported. Was someone only able to attend your university because of donor support? Did someone survive – literally – because of donor-funded medical equipment? Donors want to hear about that.

#2: MULTI-CHANNEL APPROACH — Every medium you use to fundraise is great, but it’s stronger when it’s accompanied by a number of other channels. People need to be reminded a few times before they take action, so pairing your direct mail piece with an e-blast or your DRTV spot with digital display ads means a stronger campaign. Plus, the more channels a donor gives through, the longer – and more generously – they’ll give.

#3: BEAUTIFUL DESIGN — Inspiring stories and a variety of channels are all well and good. But if all of this goes out in a #10 envelope that looks like your Internet bill, what’s the point? There needs to be design elements in your direct response activities. It doesn’t have to be complex – in fact, it’s often better if it’s not – but it needs to be considered. The paper you use, the size of the envelope, the number of package components… it needs to be well thought out.

#4: VARIABLES — You need to acknowledge each donor along their journey. Is this a new donor? A mid-level donor? A lapsed donor? A donor who gives every September but hasn’t yet and you want to make sure they do? Whoever they are, you need to acknowledge them. It’s good for #donorlove, and it’s good for revenue!

#5: DATA — THE MOST IMPORTANT BEST PRACTICE OF ALL! The power of data cannot be denied or underplayed. You have to know how donors are responding to different pieces/packages/asks/etc. You need to test different premiums and find out what works! You need to split donors by their type and address them – and solicit them – differently. I could go on and on… DATA IS KING.

That’s it from me!

What’s your favourite best practice??? Share in the comments!

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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2 thoughts on “5 direct response best practices (and 1 busted myth)

  1. I think you’ve nailed it within your five here Maeve for me – that being “stories”. Impact stories are what help match up donor interests and motivations to the needs of those we are serving.

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