Why It’s Time to Re-Think the Self-Mailer

Nonprofits have been marketing planned giving for over 40 years with good success, but advances in technology and a shift in consumer behavior to a more ‘self-directed consumer’ have pushed more nonprofits to try and find the “silver bullet” for planned giving marketing. If you’re looking for one in this post, I’ll save you the reading…there isn’t one!

We know that only 1/3 of all planned giving donors will share with you their intentions before their gift ‘matures,’ leaving a full 66% that keep their gifts private. This makes our job as marketers harder, as our outbound communication needs to be part stewardship and part lead generation.

While every nonprofit wants to be good stewards of their marketing dollars and maximize their ROI, we don’t want to cut corners or costs if it negatively impacts results. When it comes to direct mail, you might think a self-mailer could be a cost-efficient and impactful way to get your message to your donors, but you might want to re-think that strategy. Here’s why:

The team at GKIC shared the following:

  • Self-Mailers are typically viewed as “junk mail” and many throw them out almost immediately with just a glance
  • Avoid self-mailers when you are prospecting for new business (leads) or when you are telling a lengthy, detailed story—like donor impact stories.

Directmail.com pulls from their years of experience to share this with us:

  • “In over thirty years in the direct mail industry, we’ve discovered that a letter (more often than not) will perform better – securing more leads, members, subscribers or purchasers than a postcard or self-mailer, even when the increased costs of postage, printing and mailing are taken into account.
  • The more personalized your mailing, the more likely its recipient will read it and take action. That’s why letter packages are so powerful. Real people send things in envelopes to other real people.

Your nonprofit peers are also seeing this with their own planned giving mailings:

  • In 2014, a large SEC school came to Stelter looking to increase response rates. They were working with another vendor and sending 40,000 self-mailer newsletters but only getting 15-35 responses. We challenged them to think about their audience and their mailing package differently and have seen amazing success! Over the past 3 years, they’ve dropped their mailing list to 20,000 but have increased their responses, averaging 200 responses per mailing.
  • Just last year a friend of ours at a nationally ranked, Top 10 Zoo was adamant about using a self-mailer newsletter and again we challenged them on it. Their self-mailer yielded 0 responses while the traditional newsletter package resulted in 17 responses and 12 donations. Their associate director of planned giving was shocked, saying, “Clearly I am not my own target market! It blows my mind that people would even open a packet full of stuff, but I guess we’re targeting true love, not trying to convert the indifferent.” 


And they aren’t the only ones who have seen success. If you’re ready to increase your own response rate, try switching up how you mail your campaigns. Click here to get your copy of Stelter’s Tried and Tested to learn simple direct mail tests you can try today to increase response rates.

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