Direct Mail vs Email Fundraising: Choosing the Right Format

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by Grant Cobb

Deciding that your organization needs to fundraise is simple; program expenses are high, you want to grow and do more to serve your cause, and budgets are limited. The harder part is choosing how to fundraise.

Should you use direct mail, email or some other channel? For simplicity’s sake, we’ll give you some benefits of the two largest fundraising channels to help you pick the best option for your organization.

Direct Mail

Direct mail has seemingly been around forever. Because of its widespread use, there are a number of myths about direct mail, such as the idea it’s going away, which simply isn’t true. Direct mail is still the biggest donation-driver in the nonprofit space, and nothing points to that changing in the future. If you want to learn a little more about direct mail, here is an overview of the channel for nonprofit fundraising.

Response rates to direct mail solicitations are roughly 10 times higher than any digital channel (including email). Additionally, people of all ages are statistically more likely to give to a direct mail campaign, so this isn’t limited to older audiences.

Direct mail campaigns are also incredibly easy to do. It’s as simple as writing a letter and mailing it to your donors or prospects. To get started, you should understand how to write in the “donor’s voice” and know the best practices for writing a fundraising letter.

As you write your appeal, make sure that you understand how a donor reads your letter. With all of this knowledge, your direct mail fundraising is sure to be a success.

As a channel, direct mail also keeps data tracking simple. You realistically get one piece of response data from a campaign — whether or not an individual donated. It’s important to keep track of how much they gave and which appeal it was in response to, but in general, direct mail makes data management easier.


Since the internet boom, email marketing has grown into a massive channel for profitable businesses and charities alike. Over the last 30 years or so, we’ve seen growth in scale and sophistication of email marketing and are at a point where pretty much every large brand is utilizing the channel. There is almost no reason to not use email marketing as part of your fundraising strategy.

Email marketing has the benefit of being low-cost at any scale. There is no cheaper mass communication method to directly reach donors with an appeal. The low costs of email fundraising make this channel a great way to get in front of your donors frequently.

Beyond the donations you’ll see in response, just getting your nonprofit’s brand in front of donors more frequently keeps them engaged and more likely to give at some point in the future.

Email fundraising is also incredibly easy-to-do. With tools like Mailchimp to help you create your appeals, there is no reason you wouldn’t be able to easily design and send an email campaign. In fact, the hardest part of your appeal might be learning how to ask for donations.

Now you’re left with the tough choice of which fundraising channel is right for you and your nonprofit. The good news is that most fundraising best practices would tell you to use multiple channels.

Multichannel fundraising, and marketing in general, is known to improve the results of each channel individually and as a whole. If you’re trying to maximize your results, it’s a good idea to build fundraising campaigns across a number of channels. If you’re interested in what industry experts have to say on the top of multichannel fundraising, here is a great podcast to help you better grasp and apply the concept.

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