I am a Gen Xer. I am not the core target market for direct mail. In my early twenties I had to learn two lessons quickly in order to do my job as a Fundraising Appeal Manager.
Lesson one: The people who respond to direct mail grew up with the post being THE main way people communicated outside of in person
The audience who loves and responds to direct mail the most are the Silent Generation born before 1945 (and we are talking about those born in the last 1920’s to 1945) and the older of the Boomers, so let’s say those born 1946 to the 1950’s.
If you’re younger than that, you no doubt see the mailbox as a container full of bills, catalogues, and other not-so-wanted things.
But a few decades ago, the average person could count on there being personal letters from people they knew in every post. Try to imagine how different it would be to approach the mail knowing you’d be connecting with friends and family — some of them people you haven’t seen in years. The post was a source of precious human connection. And even though it was possible to reach distant people by telephone, it was prohibitively expensive, used mainly for emergencies and very important news, if at all.
You and I approach the mail with little sense that there’s anything good in there, and rarely anything from a real person.
Not most of our donors. They expect good things to come in the mail.
This is why direct mail — which to my imagination seems so unlikely to be at all interesting — can work. And work very well in many cases.
Break free from your sense that the mail is almost entirely boring, annoying, and irrelevant.
Do your best to imagine what it’s like to think of the mail as magical, beautiful, and important.
That’s when you’ll start to succeed in direct mail fundraising.
Lesson two: Direct Mail donors want mail from causes they are connected to and care about
Our core direct mail audience range from their 60s to their 90s. Most don’t work the long hours you and I do. They don’t have the kids’ dinner to scramble together in the evening, along with the household chores, being nice to the significant other, and doing all those work/life balance things we know we should be doing. They have more time.
They also have more life experience. They saw more than any generation before due to their access to radio, TV, phones, print, and later the internet. They have lived through wars, famines, and revolutions. They saw the rise of AIDS. They fought for civil rights and lead the feminist movement.
Every generation tends to believe their own time is the most dramatic and important of all time, but think about it: people who are now older lived through more crisis, danger, and drama than you or I can imagine. They have a strong sense of connection with the world, which comes from their experience. It also comes with age, because changes in brain chemistry increase their sense of connection with the world.
They see and experience their world differently from you and me.
Direct mail may seem to us like irrelevant and unwanted “junk mail.” To a true direct mail donor, it is a chance to change the world!
That’s the reality you’re working in when you work in direct mail.
Learn more about the often-surprising ways we connect with donors by taking our most popular online course, Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.