Email Marketing vs. Print Mail Marketing: A Nonprofit’s Guide

print mail marketing vs email marketing

Finding the best way to connect with your audience can seem like such a gamble. Sometimes you might feel like you’re being spun around in a circle while blindfolded, expected to hit a bullseye with a dart. Let’s be real. Knowing how to connect with your audience right off the bat is not an easy thing to do and the target is constantly moving.

Aside from social media, print mail and email marketing are two of your most important marketing tools. I don’t need to tell you that email has changed the way we connect with donors. It has significantly cut costs and allowed us to increase engagement. However, email marketing hasn’t completely replaced print mail marketing. Finding a balance between the two can be a challenge. While part of it depends on your community, donors and your organization, I am going to share with you my go-to recommendations I usually present to my clients. I might customize this a bit, but its a good jumping off point when deciding when to shell out the cash for a mail marketing campaign and when to click send instead.

Like I’ve mentioned, all nonprofits are different. With the below recommendations I am making two assumptions about your organization:

  • You want to look professional, but you have a tight budget.
  • You have a donor list. This post will focus on the donor list you already have and not touch on buying a list or bulk mailings.

Print Mail Marketing

The two times I always recommend a mail campaign are with an annual appeal and a fundraiser. Aside from grants, these two are probably your two biggest money makers, so they make sense and are worth the investment. Now, do I suggest you get rose scented gold foil invitations? Absolutely not. However, printing annual appeals and fundraiser invites increases your legitimacy in the community and speaks a bit louder than an email landing in an inbox with 100 other emails from the day. You might find other avenues for print mailing, but these two are something every nonprofit should be doing.

Annual Appeal

Your annual appeal should include a letter. Now when I say a letter, I mean a piece of paper giving a potential donor the WHY. Why your organization matters and why they should give and support your organization. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a stuffy letter from your director. It can be photos, testimonials, stories, a letter from a client. Think outside the box! In addition to your why, include a return envelope, a link to donate online and suggested donations with examples of how impactful their dollars can be (I.e., $40 buys a child a brand new pair of shoes).


Gala. Soirée. Celebration. Whatever you call it, if you have an event where you intend to bring home some cash, your invitation should set the tone for the evening. If you want donors to fork over $75 for your event on top of bidding on auction items and writing you a check the night of, you need an invitation that sets that tone subtly. Your fundraiser isn’t just a night where you ask for money. It’s a night for mom and dad to go out. It’s a night to get the girls together. Think about how you want your invitation to convey your fundraiser when it’s opened and let that be the jumping off point for your theme.

How to save:

  • Postcards. Always try to partner with a local company, but when your budget is limited and it’s just not possible, Vistaprint always has deals and has excellent customer service. Postcards can be cheaper to print but are ALWAYS less expensive to mail. Ten cents can add up when sending mass mailers.
  • Let them foot the stamp bill. Traditionally, nonprofits slap a stamp on the return envelope so as not to let anything be in the way from the donor getting that check in the mailbox. I don’t recommend this for two reasons. One, as a nonprofit, asking a donor to pay an extra 50 cents is not a huge request. If you send your mailer to 500 donors, you’re going to pay $250 in stamps. Think of how much food, counseling hours, program supplies you could buy with that? Two, the return envelope should also direct them to your website. With the ability to donate online, the need for a stamp continues to dwindle.
  • Make it worth it. Leave a handwritten message on the annual appeal. It can be generic but should have their name included. Don’t expect this to just come from the director. Ask staff, board members, volunteers, and even clients to help out. It lightens the load and sends a collective message.
  • Stand out. Consider bright envelopes, photos, and stories. Have a professional design but also have your printed pieces tell your agency’s story.

Email Marketing

Email Marketing is an inexpensive tool to communicate with donors in regards to agency happenings, sharing client stories and asking for volunteers and monetary support. Think of it as y0ur best friend for communicating with donors when the ROI isn’t there with a printed mailer, or as a compliment to your physical mail communications.

Quarterly Newsletter

For the most part, donors want to be kept in the loop of what organizations they support are doing. Plan to send out a quarterly newsletter through Mailchimp or similar software. Here are a few things to include:

  • Client testimonial
  • Upcoming events
  • Agency news and changes
  • Board, staff or volunteer highlight
  • Program update

Annual Appeal Follow-up

Your annual appeal is a campaign and should have multiple touch points with your donors from the initial letter in the mail to a request on social media to one last request in your donor’s inbox. Follow up can be generic such as sending everyone a follow-up email that is similar but perhaps tells a new agency story or even straight up asks for money again. Just because you mailed an appeal doesn’t mean they sat down and carefully looked it over. Alternatively, if you can send messages to those who gave, thank them and share agency updates – but still, mail a formal thank you. Also, consider sending emails only to those who did not give through the mail as a subtle reminder.

Fundraiser Follow-up

After your event, thank the attendees! Include photos from the night, share how much you raised and what impact that money will have. Make donors feel like part of your event and your little community. It will encourage them to attend next year’s fundraiser and support your organization all year long.

Inform donors of any other upcoming agency events and promotions

Now, don’t spam them, be strategic. If other events pop up during the year or you need community support for things like a resturant supporting your organization with a dine to donate night or you need volunteers for one day or something cool happened like you helped your 1,000th client, share it!

How to save

  • MailChimp: Keep your list clean and up to date so not to go over the allowable limit. You should be able to pay very little if anything.

Make it worth it

  • Quality responsive template. Once you have one, feel free to keep using it but mix up the photos and content. It will increase brand awareness and make it easier for you. Also, make sure it is responsive and will look good on phone, tablet and desktop devices. Working with a company like MailChimp makes this pretty easy.
  • Have a newsletter signup on your website to increase your list. Pretty self-explanatory. The bigger your list, the more chance you have at donor engagement and giving.
  • Always include a link to donate or direct users to your website. Your newsletter is not the end of the road. Newsletters should always lead to the website to give. Also, if you’re sharing a long update or story, make a blog post first and provide a snippet in the email directing them to your website for the whole story. Website traffic will allow them to learn more about your agency, volunteer opportunities or make a gift.

Hopefully, the above tips and tricks have inspired you to revamp or further explore your communication strategy. If you have any questions or need help, please reach out!

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