7 Mail-Fundraising Insights from Mal Warwick

Mal Warwick, the widely respected Berkeley-based expert on mail fundraising, provides seven pointers on “who, what, where, when, and why of direct mail for nonprofits”.

What is truly important in a mailing?

“Such questions as what you put in the P.S., what postage rate you use, and how many dollars are returned by a mailing,” Warwick observes, are of secondary importance compared to issues like:

  • To whom should you mail?

  • What should you mail to them?

  • When is the best time to mail?

  • What can mail accomplish for you?

Folly of mailing to satisfy immediate needs

“I’m probably slower than just about anyone else to turn to direct mail as a way to raise short-term money,” Warwick states. The best first step for a cash-strapped nonprofit “isn’t likely to be a solicitation.”

Event-generated mailing lists

Steer clear, Warwick cautions. “Event donors … won’t necessarily respond to a mailing.”

Reliance on brochures

In Warwick’s many years of fundraising experience, brochures “rarely justify the extra cost they entail. … There are lots of brochures mailed to raise money — but I think the greatest benefits they bring are usually to the designers who get paid to produce them.”
“I never mail a brochure without a letter,” Warwick states.

Follow-through essential

Direct mail is only one of several legs in a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. “Follow through. Why bother otherwise?”


“Almost all the time,” Warwick states, “the right moment to ‘drop’ a direct-mail fundraising appeal is when you’ve got it addressed and stamped. … Millions of dollars are lost waiting for the ‘right time’ to mail.” Ignore so-called “hot” mailing months, he urges.


Warwick advises that “80% of the time” four items are essential in a fundraising appeal:

  • An outer envelope

  • A letter

  • A reply device

  • A return envelope

If a mailing-package element does not reinforce the letter’s message, Warwick urges, “leave it out.”
Modestly, Warwick adds, “Even if you know it all, you and I may see” fundraising direct mail “a little differently.”

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