7 Expert Pointers on Mail Fundraising

Fundraising specialists Kay Lautman and Fran Jacobowitz offer seven informed tips on direct-mail fundraising:


Plain-Jane packages are winning most fundraising tests, Lautman and Jacobowitz report — perhaps because mailings with heavy graphics look too “commercial.”
The National Museum of the American Indian tested a “mask” mailing — showing a four-color image of an Indian mask on the outer envelope — against a plain envelope that carried a “Your Charter Invitation Enclosed” headline.
The simple envelope pulled a higher average donation than the “mask” carrier, at a lower cost to raise a dollar. But the “mask” mailing generated a response rate almost 10% higher. Since the museum’s primary goal was to find new donors, it chose the “mask” package as its control.
Next, the museum mailed a black-and-white version of the “mask” control. It increased response at considerably lower cost.


Courier type used to be the norm for direct-mail copy. With the advent of word processors, Times Roman became the new standard. For some organizations, especially those with an older donor base, Lautman and Jacobowitz say that Courier still works better. For others, Times Roman wins.

Premiums and Gifts

In a typical premium-based fundraising program, donors receive a mailing that tells 7 them to expect a gift — at no obligation — but asks for a contribution. Response rates range from 5% to 8%, with an average gift of $15 to $50.

Rationalize the plan

When you make unrealistic plans, you look silly and may go broke. For instance a client once asked a consultant to generate 2,000 new customers from a 500-name list.

Gift Strings

For years, in attempts to stimulate upgraded contributions, fundraisers have flagged a higher-than-usual ask in a gift string on their reply devices.
Some recent testing indicates that use of the technique actually depresses average gifts — though a Castle Press mailing for UCLA showed just the opposite.


A dues hike of $5 may bring in more immediate dollars — but perhaps at the cost of depressing your number of donors. When one organization tried to raise dues by $5, its board members assumed that “Just the price of a hamburger and drink” would not matter to members. It did.

Changing your identity

One organization for which Lautman & Company works changed its logotype without testing. The results were “disastrous.”

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