Drive Supporter Engagement with Digitally-Enabled Direct Mail

Most of the time, when nonprofit organizations and campaigns start considering merchandise, it’s because they want to diversify their fundraising efforts. 

Merch is an extremely effective tool, whether sold in person at events, through an e-commerce store, or sent to supporters in exchange for donations. Awareness is usually considered a side effect. Sure, additional supporters may see a sticker or decide they absolutely need that cool logo on a (union-made) t-shirt. But usually, awareness is just a bonus — funds are the end goal. 

However, awareness is vital to your cause or campaign. For organizations small and large, building widespread awareness is the first obstacle on the path to getting those funds and seeing success. 

So how do you build that awareness? Good, old-fashioned snail mail is a safe bet, but to take it up a notch, we’ve got a digitally-enabled twist. 

Who Doesn’t Love Getting Mail? 

Campaign managers often eschew direct mail in favor of email blasts or social media campaigns, but it remains one of the most effective fundraising methods. However, when nonprofits or campaigns hear “direct mail,” they often think of sending out a solicitation in the mail and receiving a completed form (and check) in return. 

The origins of sending out merch in the mail are actually the opposite of how most organizations leverage merch as part of their programs today. Originally, organizations and campaigns would send out a sheet of return address labels as free merch and enclose a form to include a donation. As communication tactics and promotions get more sophisticated, it’s easier to lessen the up front cost and get more return on your investment by making merch a part of your digitally-enabled direct mail program. 

Small Merch = Big Impact

Yes, tote bags and t-shirts are desirable to your supporters, but when thinking about mail campaigns, the smaller, the better. A standard size bumper sticker, round die-cut sticker, or a sticker pack with six smaller stickers on one sheet is the perfect size to fit in a #10 envelope. USA-made and union-printed, of course, since it’s important for your merch to align with your mission. 

While stickers as a reward may conjure images of elementary schoolers practicing their best behavior, they are great motivators for political and nonprofit campaign audiences. The small incentive of receiving a gift for donating can boost your campaign engagement.

And the best thing about stickers? They spread your message for you. Every laptop, minivan, and water bottle that bears your sticker is a miniature billboard for your campaign. Even the smallest stickers can spread your key messages. When you sit across from someone at an airport or a library, you might notice a three-inch round sticker that says “We won’t go back”. Paired with the Planned Parenthood logo, it’s immediately identifiable as a call-to-action to mobilize supporters to fight for reproductive rights. Or a bumper sticker on a car that says, “Got Science?” with a visible url will direct other like-minded individuals to learn more about the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Different Methods of Incorporating Merchandise into Your Mailing Efforts 

Requesting merch through the mail indicates the beginnings of a commitment to your cause. Using direct mail creates a pipeline for your campaign — first you gather emails and create awareness, then you turn that awareness into donations. Finally, you create a supporter for life.  Here are three ways to incorporate direct mail merchandise offers into your digital efforts: 

1. Build an Email List 

For grassroots campaigns or organizations looking to broaden their audience, using low-cost merchandise to incentivize email sign-ups is a win-win. Not only do you get an email, you get a physical mailing address. 

This helps you build your list and enables you to understand the geographic breakdown of your supporters. Building your own list also opens up the opportunity to gain more funds by working with similar organizations looking to reach the same audience. As long as you have your opt-in settings in order, you can share or sell lists as you see fit. 

How to do it: Run a social media campaign advertising a free sticker pack for anyone who signs up with their email. ActBlue makes this easy with their forms and merch integration. 

2. Incentivize Donations 

If you already have an established list, or are working on pressing issues that need major attention, transition your focus from list-building to fund-raising. Whether you want to reach a new audience, or tap existing supporters, offering a “gift” in return for a donation is more compelling. 

How to do it: To capture a broader pool of donations, send an email blast to the segment of your list who haven’t previously donated, asking for a $2 donation in exchange for a free sticker. 

3. Solidify Your Sustainer Program

Sustainer programs, where supporters sign up to give money at regular intervals, are the bread and butter of most campaigns. One-time donations are important, but predictable, sustainable revenue is key to keeping a campaign afloat. 

If your campaign goals are to incentivize membership giving, like monthly recurring donations, merch is the way to go. Though sustainer membership often begs a larger token than a sticker, a small merch incentive that fits in an envelope is an excellent way to motivate that first monthly donation. 

How to do it: Use promotional channels like email and social media to announce your monthly giving programs, and offer a sticker delivered via mail immediately upon the first donation. 

The Results: Lower Cost, Higher Engagement 

Though stickers (and the stamps required to mail them) aren’t free, this concept is still an extremely low-cost way to build the awareness that leads to donations and recurring funds. 

The cost of a sticker starts at about $0.20. With bulk postage, you are looking at a gift that costs your organization less than a dollar. 

Here’s the kicker: you are only going to be sending these gifts to the people who have already expressed interest. This means the time and money you spend are doubly valuable. You get an email sign-up and a physical address, both of which are extremely valuable for your organization’s continued communication. If you are getting donations, that’s even better. But gone are the days when you’d mail an entire zip code, hoping to get a few donations back. The ROI of digitally-enabled direct mail is much higher because you only spend money for those engaged supporters. 

The act of giving a piece of merch in itself also fosters engagement. That small sticker is the first thread of a relationship you are weaving with each supporter. The dollar for a sticker and postage is well spent, even if all you get in return is an email and physical address. 

Why? Because it’s the start of a very beautiful friendship. One that will pay dividends, in funds and support, for your cause.