Skip to content

4 Mistakes to Easily Avoid

by Alicia Toles

Can you guess which of the following mistakes happened? A back to school appeal that mails in August without a reply envelope, a segment of donors who were included by mistake, or Midwest chapter donors receiving a mailing that references Los Angeles…

If you guessed all, you are correct.

Hopefully, you haven’t experienced any obvious mistakes like these. But, are there less apparent mistakes that you may be making that will cost you in the long-term?  Here are a few tips to help you avoid them:

Not using what is already at your fingertips

When is the last time you reviewed the health of your data file? Have you implemented learnings from your last annual file analysis, and are they working?  So many times, we can get so caught up in getting the next package out that we fail to incorporate learnings and tweak mail plans. By knowing the most and least valuable donor segments, you can truly mail smarter.

The Wrong Message

Is there a disconnect between your acquisition and appeal messages? In one of my first DM jobs, I wanted to discover ways to improve the weakest performing donor package. After reviewing the donor segments, I quickly realized the new to file segment had a very low performance. This package was the first donor appeal for 1st quarter, new to file donors and had a different signer and tone than the acquisition package. Once the appeal was changed to match the message of the acquisition, I saw increased performance across the board.


Over Suppressing (when your donors don’t tell you to)

Your monthly donors love the work that you do! Send them newsletters to keep them informed and if there is a special appeal, ask for an additional gift.

Or, if a donor has been giving to direct mail for years and responds with a gift that makes your major gift officer thrilled that they have a new prospect to cultivate, remember their preferred giving channel! It isn’t the time to pull them out of the mail. Develop a schedule that allows cultivation and continue sending them mail until they show they have another preferred giving channel.

Ask, Ask, Ask

Avoid one of the biggest mistakes of all – don’t treat donors like ATMs. Take the time to review all of the communication touch points. How many “asks” does a donor receive compared to cultivation and stewardship messages?

A Win, Win Solution: If you understand your data file, have compelling, consistent messages, and listen to your donors’ preferences, you will be in a great position to maximize opportunities for growing your donor base. Not only will you benefit, but most importantly so will your donors!

Alicia Toles is a Sr. Account Executive, providing expertise on direct mail strategies for CDR Fundraising Group, an integrated marketing agency serving nonprofits in a variety of areas, including online fundraising, direct mail, advocacy, list brokerage and management and mission-specific marketing. She has 11 years of direct marketing experience, and she is passionate about helping nonprofits develop strategies, which address the full cycle of a donor from acquisition to higher levels of giving. She can be reached at