Too Much Mail: Is There Such a Thing?

Concord Direct

Raise your hand if you’ve ever repeated this fundraising mantra:

“Mail more, make more.”

Now raise your hand if you’ve followed that mantra with this caveat:

“…but expect more donor complaints.”

Perhaps it’s an angry phone call or an all-caps email, but regardless of the delivery format, development professionals understand that if they are regularly sending direct mail, donor complaints about “too much mail” are virtually guaranteed. This leaves nonprofits grappling with the question: How do we use direct mail to communicate and solicit donors but not send so much that donors complain?

The conundrum is clear. While direct mail is still an effective and engaging fundraising channel – boasting the highest response rates over other forms of communication – it still has its drawbacks. For example, according to the Donor Mindset Study III, more than a third of donors indicated that they were more likely to be annoyed by direct mail than digital communications (34% vs. 28%).

But what many organizations don’t realize is that the most frequent cause of donor complaints is their direct mail program strategy, not the use of direct mail itself.

In our whitepaper, Overcoming the Illusion of Too Much Mail, Concord Direct Account Director Bert Salter shared, “When donors are complaining about too much mail…it’s unlikely that the organization is over-mailing, although it’s possible. It’s more likely that the organization hasn’t addressed the main causes that lead donors to think they are getting too much mail.”

According to Salter, the top three (actual) causes of donor complaints are:

Mail timing: Mailings – and digital communications, for that matter – occurring in quick succession commonly lead to the perception that organizations are over-mailing. For example, if a donor receives an appeal letter today, a newsletter next week, and a special invitation the next, this creates conditions where complaints are likely to surface. “Even if each mailing has a unique purpose, if they arrive close together, a number of donors are likely to be annoyed,” says Salter.

Messaging relevancy: While donors typically appreciate communications regarding the impact of their support, not every donor equally values the organization for the same reason. As our Executive Creative Director Cindy Kilgore said, “Problems arise when organizations confuse which donors want to hear about which services.” When an organization sends an appeal that seems irrelevant to a particular donor, the effect is similar to that of watching commercials that sell something the viewer has no interest in – it is seen as an annoying interruption.

Mailing List Integrity: Poor mailing list integrity undermines an organization’s efforts to establish relationships with donors – a clean, updated, and accurate mailing list is essential for any successful direct mail campaign strategy. Beyond mailing to too many donors, poor list management practices can lead to other problems, including misspelled names, duplicate names, incorrect addresses, and donor who are listed under the wrong gift level. “Donors want to feel appreciated,” said Salter, “and the wrong mailing will make a donor feel like you don’t value them.”

Now that we’ve identified some of the root causes of donor complaints, check out our whitepaper, Overcoming the Illusion of Too Much Mail for some actionable strategies on overcoming the pressures of complaining donors. And in Part II of our series, we’ll identify what not to do when donors complain.


Bert Salter

Cindy Kilgore

Steve Rudman