The last 18 months have both challenged some of our long-held beliefs about fundraising and reinforced many of the lessons we know to be true. 

    One of the brightest spots in 2020 and 2021 has been direct response, especially in a time when face-to-face asks have become nearly impossible to do. 

    Over the last four years we have had the privilege of working with a group of YMCAs across the country in a direct response cohort to test messages, audiences and appeal timings. As a group, these Ys have reduced their costs (thereby increasing ROI) and connected with both lapsed and new donors. Many of their learnings are applicable to all nonprofits and worthy of consideration as you develop plans for your development efforts.

    • There is a specific demographic who will respond to letters in the mail. Perhaps not surprisingly, that audience is ages 55 and above. Target your list for US mail accordingly, saving other methods of connection (email, social, mobile giving, etc) for younger demographics.

    • How “close” are the people on your list to your organization? We learned that “members” were more likely to respond than people with no or little connection to the organization. We learned that LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS – even from several years ago – will respond to these appeals. Paying attention to the list selection is important, and your appeals should include a mix of renewals, upgrades, donor recapture, and donor acquisition in order to both grow your donor base and develop current-year giving.

    • Donors will give more than once. In fact, many of them will give multiple times each year. Too many nonprofit leaders have been taught to only ask once for fear of “offending” donors. When you stop making giving decisions for your donors, you may be amazed at how generous they can be!

    • Direct mail, email and social media support acquisitions, renewals and upgrades as well as being  efficient and effective tools for education and stewardship about your cause. These methods also help you build into regular and consistent communication with your supporters.

    • You must be “agnostic” when reviewing the data. Every mailing, e-blast and post is an opportunity to learn and adjust the strategy. There will be surprises both good and bad. The goal is to continually refine your program and commit to the strategy over a longer period of time. A one-off mailing or short term program won’t help you meet your goals.

    • Pairing these methods with services like wealth screening and good stewardship can move donors along a continuum to increased and more meaningful gift opportunities. Research shows that many donors make their first gift to an organization in response to a direct response appeal. That initial gift is often a sort of unconscious test for the donor to see how it feels to support your organization. Good stewardship will make a big difference on whether or not you get that second or third gift.

    • Over time, a consistent annual donor (no matter the dollar level) is one of the prime prospects for a planned gift.

    Direct response can be a powerful enhancement to a non-profit development plan. As you look to adjust your fundraising plans for the rest of the year (and for next year), consider how you might incorporate this strategy to help engage and activate donors.


    Are you a YMCA interested in joining our 2022 cohort or investigating our digital donor engagement program? 

    Want to learn more about how direct response can help you?

    Contact us for more information! 


    What has been your experience with direct response? We’d love to hear more in the comments below.


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