If you are considering a direct mail fundraising program or wondering why your current effort is not meeting your expectations, ask yourself the following seven questions. Unless you can confidently answer "YES" to each and every question, you had better think twice before you proceed.

1. Emotion?

Is the issue you want to mail on really important to your potential donor? Not should it be, but is it already? Does your cause bring anguish to the prospective donor? Or is your institution one he cares deeply about? If not, forget it! And don't substitute your own views for that of the potential donor, because in this case, his view is the only one that counts.

2. Uniqueness?

What is it that makes your appeal unique? What is it that sets you or your organization apart from the competition? There must be major, clear-cut differences in the eyes of your potential donor, not just in your eyes. There's lots of competition in the mail for contributions. What niche or need do you fill that no other individual or organization fills? If there are only subtle differences, then perhaps you should find another way to raise funds. 

3. Visibility? 

Is the potential donor already aware of the problem that you wish to solve or the opportunity you wish to seize? Do you have to explain it? If so, you are in trouble. Direct mail fundraising is targeted at the "choir." If the donor isn't at least somewhat familiar with the problem, he'll never get to the request for funds. 

4. Patience & Time?

Do you have the time and patience needed to let the direct mail fundraising process succeed? Direct mail can provide a solid funding base for a foundation, or organization, but it takes time to work. Direct mail is not an instant money machine. First, a donor must be built. That takes time. Maybe as much as six to nine months. In the meantime, patience is required as funds are plowed back into building the donor base. There are exceptions but plan on the rule, not the exception. If you are impatient, consider a different plan of action.

5. Commitment? 

Are you prepared to make a personal commitment to making the fundraising effort a success? Signers, testimonials, case studies, and research are all your responsibility. If you're not prepared to put the time and effort into making the program work, maybe you had better rethink using direct mail to raise funds. 

6. Now? 

Are the funds needed right now? Direct mail donors look for immediate results. If you want to solve a problem well into the future, they'll wait and contribute later. There is an urgency to every successful direct mail fundraising program. No urgency, no funds.

7. Techniques & Copywriting?

Are you prepared to stand back and let your professional fundraiser do his job? Are you willing to limit your input to matters of factual research, organizational policy, and law? Are you willing to use "command response" techniques that have a track record of success? Are you willing to sign off on fund appeals that contain words, grammar, and sentence structure that differ from your personal taste? Are you prepared to resist the urge to make copy changes just for the sake of putting your personal mark on the fund appeal? You had better answer with a loud "YES" if you want your fund appeals to work. Unless your appeals use techniques that "command" a response and unless they use emotional "now-or-never" phrases constructed from simple, everyday words, don't expect them to succeed. It's not going to happen.