13 Examples of Direct Mail Fundraising That Worked for Nonprofits

Jaycen Thorgeirson
Founder & Chief Storyteller
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You’ve done the research. You have your perfect prospect list. You’ve nailed down your budget and your goals. Now comes the scary part.

What do you actually send? 

Last week we explained the three essential best practices for direct mail fundraising: personalize, up the perceived value, and make it easy to take the next step.

This week we’re sharing 13 Direct Mail Examples that use these best practices with great results. Use these for inspiration in your next direct mail fundraising campaign!

13 Direct Mail Examples that work for nonprofits

When you’re planning a direct mail fundraising campaign for your nonprofit, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. 

But fear not! We’re going to share some of our favorite direct mail campaigns so you can take what you like and turn it into your own successful campaign.

1. Make your donor the hero

In Operation Smile’s direct mailer, they not only included a well-worded and persuasive fundraising letter, but another letter meant not for the giver, but for the child they were going to help.

Inside of the mailer were fifteen adorable stickers and a message for the child: “A new smile. A new day. A new life. I'm so happy for you! From your friend in (donor's state), USA.” Then the donor could sign the letter and send it back along with their gift.

This brilliant addition showed the potential donor their impact in an immediate, emotional way. They could see clearly that they would be the hero for a child with cleft palate. 

2. Be aware of the context of your message

In May of 2020, Bethany Health Care Center sent out a direct mail campaign. It was a simple fundraising letter, but it had tremendous results. Why?

Because Bethany Health Care Center spoke directly to the common experience of their prospects. At this point, quarantine was the norm, and people were feeling increasingly isolated. But the message from Bethany Health Care Center was honest, direct, and spoke to the moment.

In the letter itself, the author admits that they thought about not sending the fundraising request at all, but then they thought about the residents of Bethany Health Care Center. They follow this by explaining how the center had adjusted to coronavirus restrictions. 

By meeting the moment and being aware of the context of their message, Bethany Health Care Center surpassed their goal by 296% for this campaign. When designing your own direct mail campaign, consider the social environment of your message, and remember: honesty is always the best policy.

3. Let your inner child out for some fun

DatAvail had a hard task set for them: make database administration fun. They wanted to connect with folks in their industry at trade shows, but first, they had to get their attention.

To do this they created a board game: Datavailopoly. It played off all the insider knowledge and jokes that a database administrator would understand.

Then, they sent out pieces of the game as direct mail, encouraging their prospects to meet up with them at networking events to get their full copy of the board game.

This worked well because of two factors: 1. The initial mailer encouraged further contact in an interesting way, and 2. It was fun! 

How can you bring fun and a sense of “insider knowledge” to your mailing list?

4. Play the long game

SOMAmetrics had a client whose primary problem was confusion: their product was considered project management software, which most people already had and were unwilling to change. 

After significant research into their client’s prospects, SOMAmetrics created a white paper explaining how their client could provide solutions for their prospects’ challenges. Then, they followed that piece of direct mail up with further educational digital materials. In the first 60 days, this campaign earned 278% ROI in new accounts.

If it’s not clear what your nonprofit helps, or how you’re different from other similar organizations, play the long game: bring your prospects through an education process before asking for funds or time. This will improve both your ROI and your human connections over time.

5. Multimedia works best

Hexagon wanted to impress their partners and investors with their Annual Report. A PDF or PowerPoint slide? No way. Hexagon thought bigger.

They combined augmented reality with their annual report. The viewer was invited to download an AR app that allowed their phone to "trigger" some aspects within the report.

The trigger would prompt interactive images viewed through the phone, like Pokemon GO for financials and product descriptions.

Not only does this make the dry material of the Annual Report more interesting, it showed off Hexagon's ability to use the latest tech for the benefit of their clients.

Remember: every touchpoint, even those that seem set in stone, is a chance to engage your prospects. If you have some dry materials in your campaign, such as repetitive announcements or financial information, use video or AR to make it captivating.

6. Add interactivity to make it memorable

The Skoda Yeti can make the parking struggle a thing of the past with parking assist. However, the problem with a new feature is you can't just explain it. You have to make it memorable.

Skoda created a postcard. On one side, a little Skoda Yeti. On the other, a similarly tiny parking space. 

Simply place the miniature Skoda Yeti on the card, and magnets drag it into the correct spot. Not only is it simple, but it gives the prospect a direct sensation of ease associated with Skoda's parking assist.

This kind of interactivity and tactile experience sparks word of mouth and makes a memory for your prospect. How can you use memorable interactivity in your next direct mail fundraising campaign? 

7. Use striking visuals

Every year, the World Wildlife Federation sponsors "Earth hour." It's a call for companies and individuals to turn out their lights for one hour. Instead of consuming during that hour, the whole world is encouraged to think about ways we can better support the environment.

Of course, getting companies to go "lights off" can be challenging. To address this challenge, WWF sent a candle in a specially-made box to CEOs. The box looks like an office building viewed from the outside, with all the lights on. When the candle is pulled out, it goes dark.

Not only is the visual striking, but the candle itself acts as a physical reminder that can also be used during Earth hour! 

This campaign hits several sweet spots since it's memorable, practical, and combines most of the senses into one presented item (scent, sight, and touch). The year WWF sent the candles; corporate participation increased 260%. Now that's a remarkable return for one little candle!

8. Use QR codes for easy CTAs

Architectural design firm Anderson Canyon was looking to expand their business, but they didn’t want to go the traditional route. In today’s flooded marketing landscape, “traditional” means “ignored.”

Since being remarkable isn’t an option, it’s a requirement, we partnered with Anderson Canyon to create a multimedia direct mailer for their best possible prospects. The unique branded packaging contained a customized video and personal letter detailing how Anderson Canyon could help the prospect and why they made the perfect match.

The best laid plans can fall short if they don’t stick the landing. That’s why we included a remarkably easy way to learn more about Anderson Canyon: QR codes. Both the video and letter directed the prospect to scan the code and visit Anderson Canyon’s website.

When designing your campaign, make sure that taking the next step is as easy as possible with as few steps as you can manage, whether that’s a QR code leading to your website’s fundraising page, or including a paid postage envelope that the prospect can easily send back with a check.

9. Tell a simple story

When designing your campaign, start by nailing down your message. It’s best to keep your story as simple as possible. If you can hone it down to one sentence, you’re on the right track.

We did this with one of our own recent outreach campaigns. During a brainstorming meeting (must have been around lunch time), one of our teammates came up with this sentence: “We go together like peanut butter and jelly.”

It was so clever yet so clear that we knew it would be memorable. So we built an entire campaign around it! That campaign put us top of mind and smoothed the way to new client relationships. 

Who knew being known as the “peanut butter and jelly people” would have so many benefits?

10. Incorporate an element of mystery

Most people can’t resist a good mystery. This is why there are approximately one million murder mystery shows and movies (I don’t have the exact number, but that feels accurate). 

People love to solve puzzles and become one of the initiated few who know the answer. You can use this in your direct mail campaigns, like we did with our client partner BillingTree.

For their direct mail efforts, we created a puzzle box. Inside was an Amazon gift card awaiting the happy recipient, but there was a catch… literally. 

The box was locked, and we didn’t include the combination. 

This element made it so people felt compelled to open the box, because who doesn’t love to solve a mystery? And that compulsion to open the box and see what was inside led to over 700% ROI on this campaign.


Read more about incorporating mystery into your marketing here.

11. Use personalization and high perceived value to reach top donors

We wanted to show our appreciation to one of our partners, Sendoso. So we used personalization and a high perceived value to create something remarkable.

We had their logo laser engraved on the outside of a wooden box. Everything about the box screamed “quality,” and that ensured we didn’t get thrown into the recycling bin. On the inside was a thoughtfully selected elegant bottle of wine.

Sendoso enjoyed it so much, they shared it on their YouTube channel in an episode of “Unboxed.” You can watch it here. 

A little bit of extra effort can take your direct mailer from the trash bin to remarkable. Use personalization and high perceived value in your campaigns, especially for high-value potential donors. 

Learn more about personalization and high perceived value with last week’s blog.

12. Spark word-of-mouth with an impossible to ignore gift

It can often feel impossible to spread your message by word of mouth, even over social media. If you’re trying to attract the attention of influencers, you might feel inclined to pay them for sponsorships.

You don’t have to do this. Not if you grab their attention with an impossible to ignore gift. 

Our client Frito-Lay wanted to spread word of mouth buzz over social media for their new product, Mac N’ Cheetos. To help start the fire, we created a media gift package for key foodie influencers. The package included an entire microwave, a package of Mac N’ Cheetos, and an instruction video with retro vibes.

The gift was so remarkable, influencers couldn’t help but talk about it on their profiles. 50 kits turned into 1.3 million impressions and 8,000 shares. The buzz even generated blog articles, spreading the word to even more people.

If you’re interested in spreading the word on social media, or you just want to wow prospective donors, send them a remarkable gift they can’t help but talk about.

For more about sparking word-of-mouth buzz, read our series on the topic here.

13. Give thanks

Your most valuable relationships are people who have already donated time or money to your organization, and it’s important to take time to show your appreciation. 

Texas A&M raised over $75 million to renovate their Zachry Engineering Building and turn it into a state-of-the-art teaching facility. After such wonderful contributions from their donors, they wanted to show their thanks.

Rather than just another plaque or certificate, Texas A&M partnered with UviaUs to create a unique, interactive gift. 

The gift featured an embedded video player, loaded with a personalized message of thanks from the engineering students who benefited directly from their donation—packaged in a fully branded keepsake box specifically designed with Texas A&M alumni in mind.

This outreach campaign won awards for its innovation and excellence, but most importantly, it showed the donors that their gift truly mattered.

Direct mail fundraising best practices

To learn more about what works best for direct mail, check out these articles:

At UviaUs, direct mail and targeted outreach are kind of our favorite things. And like most people’s favorite things, we talk about it… a lot. 

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