Community leader, visionary philanthropist – whatever title you choose when approaching some of your most generous and loyal donors by mail – there are a few important details you want to keep in mind.

Before you put pen to paper, you should have already given some serious thought to the following:

  • The audience you will approach (work with a group of qualified donors)
  • The project you will ask them to support (make it tangible)
  • The price tag for this project, the amount you will ask them to contribute (“stretch” gift) and the deadline (promotes a sense of urgency)
  • The language you will use, and the quality of the package (should be exclusive to match the commitment you are asking them to make)
  • The stewardship promise to your donors (probably the most important of all)

Let’s take a closer look at each component.

The audience
The first step in soliciting $1,000+ gifts by mail is to determine your audience.  There are various criteria that can help qualify potential supporters. A donor’s last gift amount (for example, you may want to look at anyone who’s given $200+) and recency (last gift in 12-36 months) are a factor, so is the individual’s capacity (how much money they have) and their affinity for your organization.

The project
After you have determined who you are going to mail to, you should give some thought to what you will ask them to support. Try and make the “ask” tangible – a piece of equipment that will benefit hospital patients, or a well that will provide clean drinking water for children in Tanzania.

It’s important that the project be compelling, that you clearly outline the issue and the solution, and that you make it easy for the donor to pledge their support.

The price tag/deadline
It’s helpful when you can clearly outline how much you need and how much you are asking the donor to give. For instance, a new MRI tool might cost $3M to purchase and install, so you might ask a direct mail donor to consider “stretching” their gift to $1,000 to support this purchase. Maybe clean drinking water and training in sanitation would cost $2,000 – why not ask the donor to increase their commitment and help a community battle thirst and diseases (imagine the impact!)

You will want to keep the ask (and reply coupon) as simple as possible, but you still want to provide the donor with a variety of options to fulfill their gift (single gift, monthly and maybe even a pledge option). If you decide to include a pledge option (i.e. five-year pledge), you will want to ensure that the proper measures are in place to capture and renew donors after their pledge is up.

Be sure to include a clear deadline (we need your help by January 31st) even if the deadline is an internal one. Donors typically respond more quickly (and generously) when there is a sense of urgency.

The language/package
The writing style for a $1,000+ ask will be more sophisticated than a traditional direct mail letter, which is usually written at a grade eight level. This would be a great opportunity to brand and promote a giving club, for example, you might ask donors to join your President’s Circle or The Dean’s Club.  Branding this group helps create a sense of exclusivity. It also makes it easy for you to give some profile to this group in newsletters, annual reports or donor recognition events.
Additionally, you will want to ensure that you take the time (and space) you need to make the case for support, make it personal (include the donors last gift amount/date) and remember to highlight your organization’s mission and vision. Remind donors of the good work your organization is doing and the lives being transformed, as a result of that work. Ask donors to invest in the future of your organization and most importantly, thank donors for their past generosity and commitment to your cause.

Make sure you opt for high end stock, hand address and live stamp. It’s important that the package be somewhat more exclusive than traditional direct mail to align with the level of commitment you are asking for.

The stewardship promise to donors  
The most important detail that trumps all of the above is your stewardship promise to your donors. You need to be able to clearly articulate what it is donors can expect to receive in exchange for their increased support. Maybe it’s a special “behind-the-scenes” invitation to tour your hospital, care centre or church. Maybe it’s a special invite to see firsthand the new piece of equipment they helped to fund. Maybe it’s a personalized follow-up letter or video from a volunteer working overseas.

It might be something as simple as recognition in your donor newsletter, annual report or an opportunity to include their name on a prominent display or donor board. At the very least, donors should receive regular updates from your organization via mail and email (of course this would be based on their communication preferences).

After you have received the gift
Once the gift has been received, it is really just the beginning of your relationship with the donor. Remember, you need to have a plan for appropriate acknowledgement (thanking and receipting), recognition (donor list, annual report, donor wall), and stewardship (report back).

In fact, in the first 48 hours after making the gift, your donor is assessing their experience with your organization and deciding whether or not they will ever make a repeat gift. How your donor is thanked (and how quickly) will impact their overall donor experience and how connected they feel to your cause.

Whatever you do, don’t make the assumption that because they have increased their support, they no longer want to receive mail over the course of the year. Be careful not to remove them from the regular direct mail cycle too soon. What sometimes ends up happening is that a major gift officer is assigned and the donor falls through the cracks because the major gift officer is working on larger gifts.

A “donor centered” approach would be to contact the donor to thank them for their gift and ask them how often they want to hear from you , who they would most like to hear from and what they would like/expect to receive.

Do you have a great example to share of a successful high-end mail campaign? We would love to hear from you! Email us at

This post was written by Heather Brown, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire. The article originally appeared at Hilborn: the leading provider of information to Canada’s nonprofit sector.