Poor direct mail.

It’s been the unpopular cousin of other fundraising channels in many people’s minds for years now.

To many fundraisers, direct mail fundraising had its heyday back in the 1980s and 1990s, but then started its long, steady decline toward oblivion. ‘Cutting edge’ thinkers and fundraising pundits predicted that direct mail would just disappear, giving way to more digital and democratic tools.

While fundraising channels have multiplied over the years for sure, we’re all dead wrong to diagnose direct mail as a terminal case. The Good Works 2021 Canadian Direct Mail Benchmarks Report is the latest research study to show that direct mail is alive and kicking!

A Look Back At Earlier Research

But before we look at benchmarks, let’s look back to earlier research. The Good Works 2019 State of the Direct Mail Nation Report found that direct mail is a very popular giving channel with all four of the major giving generational cohorts. While we weren’t surprised to learn that the majority of the Civic Generation (today aged 76+) gave in response to direct mail, we were surprised to learn that about a third of Boomers (aged 56-75), Gen Xers (aged 40 -55) and Millennials (aged 25-40) all responded to direct mail appeals as well.

At Good Works, we’ve always been bullish about direct mail, and our clients have continued to raise worthwhile money through this channel. Having said that, new donor acquisition through the mail has been a challenge in the past decade, both in terms of the number of new donors acquired and the cost of bringing new donors onto the file..

This Year’s Benchmark Takeaways

This year’s Benchmarks Study has shown a hugely encouraging trend with respect to new donor acquisition! Consider these three key findings:

  • The sector-wide response rate to prospect mailings increased to 1.66% in 2020 up from only 1.52% over a year ago.
  • Average gift levels for prospect mailings held steady in 2020 (compared to 2019) at $48.25.
  • Donor acquisition cost was a very affordable $35.71 in 2020, down significantly from $48.65 in 2019.

We’ve just been through a pandemic year, and different charities have responded to COVID-19 in different ways. Those charities that stayed proactive with direct mail programs in general – and donor acquisition in particular – were rewarded by donors who were willing to step up in tough times. Those charities who pulled up their drawbridges and cut back on the mail missed a big opportunity.

Moving Forward…

My take on all this is a bullish one: The evidence certainly tells me that direct mail should still be a mainstay in most charities’ tactical portfolio. And in particular, I’d encourage you to give serious consideration to an active direct mail donor acquisition program in the months (and probably years) to come.

Good luck – and we’d love to see your results in a year’s time!