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Direct Marketing Fundraising: Talking to Donors One-on-One


Jun 9, 2024


From connecting with new donors to encouraging current supporters to upgrade, marketing is a core part of fundraising. With tools like social media, TV ads, and search engine ads, you can reach thousands of supporters at the same time. However, it’s hard to build individual relationships when talking to hundreds of donors at once.

Direct marketing fundraising allows nonprofits to connect with specific donors and build individualized relationships without overspending or wasting resources on dead ends. So, how does it work?

In this guide, we’ll break down the essentials of direct marketing fundraising, including:

If you’re ready to cultivate relationships with all of your donors, let’s get started with a breakdown of what direct marketing fundraising is and how it differs from indirect marketing fundraising.

Get more value from each supporter with improved donor journeys. Download our guide.

What is Direct Marketing Fundraising?

Direct marketing fundraising is marketing and fundraising appeals addressed and sent to an individual. For example, if you receive an email addressed to you promoting a challenge gift opportunity related to a campaign you recently gave to, that would be direct marketing fundraising.

A venn diagram showing the differences and similarities between direct and indirect marketing.

In contrast, indirect marketing fundraising consists of marketing and fundraising appeals addressed to a broad audience. Usually, this audience is the general public, even if a nonprofit has a specific target audience. For example, a social media post promoting a family-friendly event may be aimed at families in the nonprofit’s local area with young children. However, anyone can stumble upon and interact with this post, making it a form of indirect marketing.

Benefits of Direct Marketing Fundraising

By definition, direct marketing has a smaller audience than indirect marketing, but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. Here’s an overview of a few benefits you can experience from a direct marketing fundraising strategy:

  • Relationship Building. It’s far easier to build relationships with specific donors when you’re communicating with them one-on-one rather than talking with hundreds of donors at the same time. As such, direct marketing is especially effective at engaging recurring supporters who have made a commitment to your cause and are looking to upgrade their support over time.
  • Metrics. When messages are sent to individual donors, it’s much easier to track engagement metrics, such as open, click-through, and conversion rates. For comparison, it can be challenging to know if a specific social media post encouraged a donation unless a supporter volunteers that information themselves. Meanwhile, you can easily see a direct connection between a specific supporter receiving a fundraising email, clicking on a link in it, and making a donation.
  • Engagement. While indirect marketing materials need to address a wide audience, direct messages are tailored to just one recipient, greatly increasing the chances they will engage with your content. For example, you might provide specific campaign updates, event invitations, educational content, or whatever else the supporter has indicated they’re interested in.

Ultimately, nonprofits should pursue a mix of indirect and direct fundraising strategies. This helps maintain a healthy fundraising cycle wherein new prospective donors regularly learn about your nonprofit, while current supporters receive continual engagement that motivates them to upgrade their support.

Types of Direct Marketing Fundraising

Now that we’ve addressed what direct marketing fundraising is, how can your nonprofit go about it? Here are a few communication channels your nonprofit can leverage for direct marketing:

You’ve likely seen advice to pay attention to supporters’ communication preferences , and direct marketing is where it matters most. If a supporter says they only want to be contacted via email, be sure that you use email when reaching out to them. Direct marketing is where you show off that you have paid attention to each supporter’s individual donor journey, and the way you contact them should also reflect that.

Direct Marketing Fundraising Strategies

Just like with any marketing approach, your strategy determines whether it will resonate with donors. Here are a few top strategies for how to make your direct fundraising appeals more effective and use the information you gather about supporters to improve your marketing efforts overall.

Collect Donor Data

Donor data allows you to create individualized messages for your direct marketing efforts. For each donor, build a donor profile that contains all of the data you’ve gathered about them throughout their engagement with your organization.

The data you collect will be relevant to your nonprofit’s goals. For example, nonprofits pursuing matching gift opportunities need to collect the following data:

A sample donor profile with nonprofit data like the individual's full name, education, employment details, and charitable involvement.

Donor data can be collected in a number of ways, such as directly asking donors through surveys and in various registration and sign-up forms. If you’re missing data or worry your donor database is out of date, you can also purchase research tools, like a wealth screening or corporate giving database.

Want to learn more about pursuing matching gift opportunities? Download our matching gifts guide.

Personalize Communication

Direct marketing is so effective because it allows for personalized communication. After all, do you feel more connected to a nonprofit when you receive an email addressed to “Valued donors” and thanks you for “all of your support,” or one that addresses you by name and references your specific contributions?

You can improve your donation appeals with two personalization strategies:

  • Segmentation. Divide your donors based on key characteristics, such as demographic data, donor status, or anything else relevant to your nonprofit’s goals. For example, you might have segments for new donors, recurring donors, volunteers, and advocates. This allows you to construct messages relevant to specific groups. For example, your recurring donors don’t need to be reintroduced to your nonprofit, but new donors may prefer educational messages that acquaint them with your cause and organization.
  • Personalization. The information specific to each donor, such as their name and engagement history, are personal details, and adding them to donor communications is the act of personalization. For example, you might use your email communication tool to address each donor by name and add their last donation amount to a fundraising request.

These personalization strategies help ensure the content you send to donors is relevant to their interests, increasing the chances they will engage with it. Plus, by addressing donors as individuals, they will feel their specific contributions matter, making them more inclined to continue supporting you.

Use Automatic Triggers

Writing individual emails to each donor whenever they interact with your nonprofit is not practical. Fortunately, you don’t have to when your email and fundraising platforms allow you to set up automatic triggers.

When donors take specific actions you would like to contact them about, set up an email trigger to send an automatic message or create a flag in their profile for your team to reach out to them. Here are a few common actions you may set up communication triggers for:

  • Donations. Whenever a supporter donates, you should reach out to them with a thank-you message. You might also set up an indicator to flag donors who give above a certain amount and deserve more appreciation than a simple thank-you message.
  • Membership sign-up. If you offer a membership program, you might trigger an email series welcoming new supporters to your organization. You may also set up triggers for membership renewal reminders and upgrade thank-yous.
  • Merchandise purchase. If a supporter buys your merchandise, you might want to reach out to them in the future to promote new items, alert them about sales, and share discount codes.
  • Matching gift process. The matching gift process has a number of actions that require communication, such as prompting donors after a gift to check their matching gift eligibility, follow-up to encourage donors to submit a matching gift application to their employer, and a thank-you message for going through the matching gift process.
  • Event registration. Along with thanking donors for registering for an event and providing them with attendance information, you might also flag donors who have shown interest in events to personally invite them to future ones.

Communication tools like email platforms and fundraising software can enable many of these triggers for you, meaning all you need to do is write the basic messages that get sent.

For matching gifts, you might even go the extra mile when it comes to automation with auto-submission. Matching gift auto-submission simplifies the matching gift process by submitting donors’ matching gift applications for them. Here’s a breakdown of how this cutting-edge technology works:

Create Donor Personas

Talking with donors one-on-one sounds great, but even with automation tools and donor profiles, is it possible to build individualized relationships with hundreds of donors? With donor personas, you can!

Donor personas are representations of hypothetical donors. Rather than composing a donation request to your entire donor base, donor personas allow you to market to one individual who represents specific segments of your donor base.

Here’s an overview of the content you should include in your donor personas:

A depiction of a hypothetical donor persona.

  • Demographic information. Divide your donor segments by demographic information, such as age, location, education, income bracket, and other relevant factors. For example, you might create one donor segment for college students, one for families with young children, and another for retirees.
  • Goals. What do donors want to accomplish related to your nonprofit? This might be to make a positive difference in the world, support a friend or family member, earn tax benefits, make friends, or create a legacy.
  • Challenges. What’s stopping donors from achieving their goals? This might be limited time or resources, or it could be a lack of knowledge about your cause and opportunities.

Use this information to create message templates for each donor segment. Then, fill in specific information, such as names, donation amounts, and engagement history, to create a strong appeal for each specific donor.

While few supporters will perfectly align with your donor personas, carefully constructed personas should cover the basics and allow you to create marketing appeals that hit on some of their interests. Plus, the more data you collect on your current donors, the more accurate your donor personas will be, and the more you can use them to define your target audience when reaching out to new prospective supporters.

Use an Omnichannel Approach

Direct marketing allows you to level up your donor communications with an omnichannel approach.

You may have heard of multi-channel marketing before, which is when you spread the same message across multiple communication channels to increase the chances supporters see and act on it. Omnichannel marketing also involves marketing across multiple channels, except each message builds on the one that came before it.

Here’s an example of how you might use omnichannel marketing to promote matching gifts:

A depiction of the numerous platforms an omnichannel strategy uses.

  • A supporter sees a search engine ad promoting your matching gifts page and subscribes to your newsletter.
  • You send that supporter an email explaining the benefits of matching gifts and providing directions for how donors can research their eligibility.
  • After the donor gives, you send them a text message encouraging them to check if they’re eligible for a matching gift.
  • When you receive the matching gift contribution from their employer, the donor receives a thank-you letter via direct mail.

Each step in this process builds on the one that came before it and responds to the individual donor’s actions. This type of highly personalized donor cultivation is highly effective at driving specific actions and is only possible with direct fundraising.

More Resources for Nonprofit Marketers

Direct marketing allows you to connect with individual supporters to develop relationships, increase engagement, and earn donations. Collect donor data to reach out with personalized content that encourages people to continue being passionate supporters.

Marketing is an extensive topic, and direct marketing is just one aspect. To develop a comprehensive marketing strategy for your nonprofit, explore these resources:

Learn how 360MatchPro can help you generate more revenue and make a more compelling pitch to donors.


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