Direct Response Fundraising

Direct response.

This is for all the smaller nonprofits out there.

When you’re sending letters and emails to your donors, you’re doing something called “direct response” fundraising.

It is fundraising, but it’s a very specific type of fundraising.

It’s not 1-to-1 major donor fundraising.

It’s not grant writing.

And to be effective with your appeals, e-appeals, newsletters, radiothons, etc. – it’s actually more important to understand “direct response” than it is to understand fundraising.

Direct Response

Direct Response is a discipline where the inputs and outputs are rigorously measured. It became a discipline in marketing long before nonprofits started using it to raise money.

The reason I mention this is because I’m convinced that most nonprofits would immediately start getting more effective at fundraising as soon as they realize they’re doing direct response marketing. And that direct response marketing has a bunch of proven rules and best practices.

How to Raise More

Two relatively easy ways to raise more money:

  1. Make sure your organization knows that – in your appeals, e-appeals, and newsletters – you’re doing direct response fundraising. This means that when creating and evaluating your mass donor fundraising, your organization needs to be asking “What will work best in direct response” instead of asking “What do I like?” or “What do I think will work?”

    You know how at too many organizations, Fundraisers are stymied by Bosses who won’t approve good fundraising? I imagine a day where a Fundraiser can say to her boss, “Remember how we talked about how our appeals are direct response fundraising pieces? The changes you want to make to this piece go against the best practices of direct response.” And the boss says, “You’re right. I don’t like it. But if this is what works best, we need to do it.”
  2. Learn more about direct response by reading about it. I’m reading Overdeliver by Brian Kurtz. His stories and advice about direct response have already made me a more effective fundraiser. The book isn’t technically about fundraising. But it’s about direct response marketing – and getting good at direct response marketing will immediately make you a more effective mass donor fundraiser.

Nobody talks about this at smaller nonprofits. But once your organization knows it’s doing direct response fundraising, you have a much better chance at being successful at it!


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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