By Kesheyl van Schilt

With 2020 just around the corner, we can’t help but think about where mail marketing is headed and what it will mean for the fundraising industry.

But we know one thing for sure: direct mail is not dead. Nor will it be in the next five years.

That said, the landscape continues to change rapidly. We can no longer expect a two-way exchange with direct mail anymore. We are past the “mail in and mail out” approach, and if you’re basing your results and key performance indicators (KPIs) on that alone, your results won’t be an accurate picture of what is happening in your programme.

We can’t reach our audience through one channel, so if you aren’t already, you need to start meeting your donors wherever they are, including the mail. (If you aren’t where your donors are, you can bet someone else is).

Here’s what we think things will look like for the next five years in direct mail fundraising.

1. Integration is key (and means higher lifetime value).

Don’t get us wrong. Direct mail still a major source of revenue for many charities and will continue to be in the next five years. But if you aren’t integrating it with other channels (think: diversifying your portfolio), you are leaving money on the table and may see diminishing returns.

Our research shows that a donor who interacts in multiple ways with a charity has a higher lifetime value: 72 times greater than other donors. Additionally, they will give 18 more times in their lifetimes and will stay on your file 11 years more than your average donor.

Integration is key to surrounding the donor with your message and it allows the donor to have multiple options on how to make their gifts. We think it’s safe to say fully integrated campaigns, with direct mail in the mix, are both the now and the future.

2. Make it personal, or not at all.

The value in direct mail is that your donor will receive a personalized and physical piece for them to engage with, something that is theirs and theirs only. Gone will be the days of high-volume junk mail. People don’t have the time to read it, nor will they want to. Mail will need to be even more personal and relevant to the people receiving it. It will need to be entertaining to stand out.

Think about it: what is different about your mail pack? If you send your donors something that is personal and reflects them as a person, all while making them feel valued and unique, we can guarantee that they will want to open your package and actually take the time to read it.

Mid-level giving programmes are already benefitting from this approach. The technology is now at a place where creating highly personalized and content-relevant direct mail is cost-effective.

3. Change the way you look at results.

Donors are migrating to digital channels, due to their ease of use. But this migration is making it more difficult to report on their behaviour and accurately measure results. So how do we measure the success of direct mail (or any other channel) in a multi-channel world?

We look at behavioural metrics of our targeted cohorts across all channels. It’s not just how your 13-24 months donors did in the mail, it’s how those donors performed overall in that time period. Looking at how cohorts perform when single channeled (direct mail only) versus multi-channeled (direct mail + e-mail + social, for example) will ultimately provide better metrics to plan your programmes in the future.

Looking ahead, we believe direct mail will always be an important part of the fundraising mix. There is something about the experience and value in opening a piece of mail, as long as it is personal and relevant.

Kesheyl van Schilt is president and CEO, Blakely, Inc. ( and a fundraiser with over 20 years of experience in the sector. Kesheyl’s discerning client perspective brings a sharpened focus to strategic planning and development for her clients, ultimately moving the needle and raising millions of dollars for amazing causes.

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