Gripes About Direct Mail Appeals

2013-Nickel-Unc-obv_D_2000Has anyone yet come up with a replacement for direct mail solicitation as a funding source? No, I didn’t think so. Individual donors still comprise the bulk of nonprofit funding, and direct mail is a tried and true way of reaching them.

(Email? Just a variation on the mail theme. Crowdfunding? Nah, best for small projects of limited duration.)

The trouble is, the tried and true sometimes becomes the tired and annoying. Or is it just me who groans at receiving yet another thick envelope that I have to open up, tear my name off the various contents of, and check for any U.S. currency before preparing the now-ragged pile for its trip to the recyling bin?

It’s apparently not just me. Or at least, not according to the results of my entirely informal, unscientific survey of friends. I asked what aspects of charity mail appeals most got their goat.

There was no shortage of answers, with most falling into one (or more) of four categories: cost, frequency, freebies, and over-the-top entreaties. Here are some of the actual replies:

Cost:

  • “Using all your money to send you more appeal letters.”
  • “Those that come with a nickel glued on – it shows they don’t need mine.”

Frequency:

  • “When the next appeal comes before the thank-you for the previous donation!”

Freebies:

  • “I don’t like when they send address labels or greeting cards — such a waste of paper.”
  • “I hate the mailing labels or small change (“a nickel will do x!”). Feels manipulative.”

Over-the-top entreaties:

  • “Dogs with sad eyes.”
  • “Animal charities that target children (sending progress reports on a particular animal) and then use the kids to pressure their parents to make a larger monthly donation (your ‘own’ animal needs more food, a new bed, etc).”
  • “Membership cards that imply you’ve already committed and they are just following up to get the money.”
  • “The . . . ones where you innocently open them and are confronted with a poor kid with a harelip or no arms . . . .”
  • “I hate the ones that are in a blank envelope that look like reports from a credit bureau or something else that matters so you can’t toss them without opening them.”
  • “I know there’s research behind it — but I HATE letters that end with a p.s. & question (Won’t you help TODAY?)”

Of course, there is research behind nearly everything that a nonprofit puts into a direct mail piece. And for everyone who hates the address labels, there’s probably someone who likes them. (Actually, that would be me. I’m running short. Could some group . . . uh, never mind.) But isn’t it a bit disturbing that people can so readily recite a list of the common strategies?

For more on direct mail and other forms of fundraising, see the 2013 edition of Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).