With rising postage rates and the popularity of email, is a mailed fundraising appeal really necessary?

Fundraising experts say a paper letter is still an effective way to get the attention of people with overflowing email accounts, but use it wisely:

  • Personalize letters as much as possible, starting with a prospective donor’s name, rather than a generic appeal. Add other details if possible—such as appreciation for attending an event, or discussing part of your organization’s work in which the prospect is involved or has expressed interest.

  • If you have a donor or prospective donor’s email and mailing address, use a dual–pronged approach to communication. A recent study by nonprofit service provider Convio found that retention rates for “traditional” donors who give by mail are higher if they are also engaged online. Email can bolster mailed solicitations with a brief follow–up reminder. Provide links to online giving methods in emailed funding requests, advises nonprofit fundraising blogger Karen Zapp.

  • Letters can go into greater detail and depth than email, ending with a summary “P.S.” message. Keep email messages brief—no more than 300 words.

Make sure that not all of your communications to donors are funding requests, Zapp advises. “Thank you notes, news releases, invitations to events or volunteer opportunities help build the relationship and keep readers interested and involved,” she writes. Email is great for keeping donors posted on how they are helping your organization accomplish great things, and about opportunities for them to be involved. It is less expensive and often more timely than print newsletters.

The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, FL, sends out an email newsletter packed with photos of recent events, upcoming activities and refuge news. The newsletter is optional for members and nonmembers alike. Subscriptions are available from the organization’s Web site or by signing up at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge visitor center.

When a donation arrives, take the opportunity to thank the donor in a personal way. Bergie Vertesch, director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, keeps an eye out for new contributors or those who have significantly increased their giving. “I immediately call them with a thank you,” she says. Even if she just leaves a voice mail, she’s heard from contributors that they really appreciate the personal acknowledgement.

“When you are competing with hundreds of nonprofits in your area, you’ve got to stand out from the rest,” says Vertesch. “You can stand out by personalizing letters, hand writing notes or making phone calls. The donors remember that you went above and beyond to thank them.”

Kendall Slee is a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to National Wildlife Refuge System publications.