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5 Direct Mail Fundraising Roles You Need to Run a Successful Campaign

Published by Tracy Howard

Whether you’re using an agency to send your direct mail fundraising appeals, or you’re sending them on your own – there are 5 essential roles that you need to have covered. If any of these direct mail fundraising roles aren’t covered, you run the risk of your campaign getting derailed.

Karen and I at Mile19 Marketing have many years of experience working at direct mail fundraising agencies and managing projects for lots of nonprofits. And through the years, we have found these 5 roles to be essential to direct mail fundraising success.

These roles can be filled through in-house staff or a combination of in-house and freelance team members. Depending on the size of your organization and the scope of your direct mail program, sometimes one person can fill more than one role (i.e. the writer may also design, etc.)

But use caution when you overlap roles. For instance, your writer should not also be his or her own proofreader.

Let’s dive into the essentials of each role on the direct mail fundraising team.

Project Manager

The project manager is a central role in the direct mail program. They are the hub of the wheel. A solid project management system, along with a rock star project manager, will ensure that your direct mail fundraising projects run smoothly, on time, and on budget.

When a project goes sideways or mistakes are found in production (or worse–after it mails!) it almost always comes back to an issue that started at the beginning. Good input keeps the project on the path for success.

A successful project management system includes finding the right tool to manage your direct mail projects. Some organizations use Basecamp, Slack, or other project tools. It’s incredibly important that whatever tool you choose, it can set schedules and manage resources.

If your organization wants to track hours against projects, then the tool should have that capability as well.

We also recommend having a job numbering system to help the team keep track of projects. This job number follows the project everywhere it goes and should be used in every communication. This makes finding, sorting, and referencing the project much easier. This system can be as simple as a combination of a reference number followed by the month and year (ie: ACQ-1020 or NWS-1120) or whatever naming convention you choose.

At Mile19 we’ve found that ProWorkflow is a great program, that’s easy to use and is also inexpensive!

Essential Tasks of a Direct Mail Project Manager

ANNUAL PLAN: Ensure the annual plan, including marketing calendar and budget, is drafted, and then finalized.

MARKETING CALENDAR: Ensure calendar stays updated with all pertinent information.

BUDGET: Once annual plan budget is finalized, manage the budget vs actuals to ensure the program stays within budget.

MEETINGS: Schedule all planning meetings (both annual planning, and project kick-offs). Take notes in all of those meetings.

CREATIVE BRIEF: Populate all tactical details, then provide to writer (who will populate the creative talking points).

SCHEDULES: Manage all project schedules, including start/due dates, staff assignments.

INTERNAL REVIEW: Facilitate the internal review of creative; proofreading process; ensuring all changes get made.

PRINT PRODUCTION: Manage the print production process with the vendors: quotes with vendor, providing print-ready files to vendor, reviewing proofs.

DATA SELECTS: Manage the data select process with the data team, including outlining the audience for each select, coding to use.

SAMPLES: Ensure package samples are filed for every project.

MULTI-CHANNEL: Partnering with the digital team as needed on multi-channel campaign planning and execution.

INVOICING: Manage the invoice process with the internal finance dept. to ensure partner and vendor invoices are paid.


The writer for your direct mail fundraising letter has 8 questions they have to answer in their copy. Our friends at NextAfter have a lot of great research around developing your nonprofit value proposition as it relates to digital fundraising.

And the same core principles of a value proposition are true in direct mail fundraising.

These 8 questions will help your direct mail writer communicate an effective value proposition and donation offer to your donor:

  1. Why are you writing me today? (Problem or opportunity)
  2. How are you solving the problem or leveraging the opportunity? (Programs and activities)
  3. What do you want me to do? (Make a donation, complete a survey, pray)
  4. Is it a good deal? (Specific costs and leveraging opportunity, if any)
  5. Why should I do it now? (Urgency)
  6. Does this all really make sense? (Context to make a decision)
  7. What do I get out of it? (Donor benefits)
  8. Why should I care? (Emotion)

Essential Tasks of a Direct Mail Fundraising Writer

ANNUAL PLAN: Participate in annual planning process related to offers and themes.

MEETINGS: Participate in campaign kick-off meetings.

CREATIVE BRIEF: Populate the offer and messaging sections.

COPYWRITING: Write all copy, including all versions, for each direct mail project. Including interviewing the letter signer as needed.

INTERNAL REVIEW: Work through any copy edits needed after internal review.


A primary role of your direct mail designer is to ensure that all design files are ready to go to the printer. To make sure you have everything covered, you need a detailed print production worksheet.

Here are the essentials you need to include in your direct mail print production worksheet:

  • Job # / Description
  • Drop date(s)
  • Target in-home date(s) – This helps the production vendor to know how to approach postal commingling, co-pal, etc.
  • Details by package
    • Quantity
    • Specs for each piece in the package (carrier env, return env, letter, reply, insert)
    • Postage type (1st class, 1st class presort, nonprofit, stamp or meter or indicia)
  • Package summary outlining which version of each element that package receives
  • Data and Lettershop Instructions
  • Details about samples needed once the project is completed

The production worksheet is built after the kick-off meeting (where your specifications are confirmed). This worksheet can then be used as the quote request for the production vendors you’ll be asking to quote the job.

Essential Tasks of a Direct Mail Fundraising Designer

MEETINGS: Participate in campaign brainstorming and kick-off meetings.

DESIGN: Design the package, including all versions. Partner with the writer as needed during the design process.

INTERNAL REVIEW: Work through any design edits needed after internal review.

PREP FOR PRODUCTION: Once creative is approved, prepare the file(s) needed by the production vendor.

PRODUCTION: Review proofs as needed.


How many times have you gotten something in your inbox or your mailbox and immediately spotted a typo? When a mailer has typos and errors, it’s hard to focus on the actual content.

That’s where your proofreader comes in.

It’s their job to ensure that your final fundraising letter or direct mail package is exactly as intended. That means looking for typos, grammatical errors, and even issues with layout.

While you can often have one person cover multiple roles in the direct mail process, your proofreader cannot be the same person who wrote the direct mail piece in the first place. It’s better to have a fresh set of eyes to spot issues.

Essential Tasks of a Direct Mail Fundraising Proofreader

INTERNAL REVIEW: Before creative is routed for internal review, proofread the package. Looks or grammar, sense, punctuation, consistency throughout the project.

PRODUCTION: Prior to the job being sent to the vendor, proofread one last time. Proofread proofs and/or set-ups as needed once the job is set up at the vendor.

Data Segmentation

Data segmentation is essential for any size of direct mail fundraising campaign. You want to make sure you’re sending the right message to the right people. This process may be slightly more complex depending on your segmentation needs and how clean your database is.

Here are some of the essential details that must be determined in your data segmentation:

  • Job # / Description
  • Drop Date(s) to have a clear timeline
  • Date that data is due to production (so you know when data must be finalized)
  • Target Quantities based on your fiscal year budget
  • Notes about any testing (since the data will need to be set up to track the testing)
  • Include segments or audiences that should be split to create control vs test panels
  • Root appeal or motivation codes
  • Audiences to exclude
  • Audiences to include, including how deep into Lapsed you want to go

Essential Tasks of Data Segmentation for Direct Mail

SELECTS: Program the select based on the criteria provided by the PM. Run appropriate QCs, apply coding, and prep the file for the production vendor.

COSTS: Ensure that costs for each project are loaded into the database (PM will provide costs).

Diving Deeper on Direct Mail Fundraising

Direct mail fundraising can seem really complicated. But hopefully this helps de-mystify some of the process for you. In fact, there’s actually a whole lot more I’d love to show you about how you can get a better handle on your direct mail fundraising.

Karen and I at Mile19 Marketing put together a “Direct Mail Owner’s Manual” for you that outlines key roles, job flows, creative strategy, direct mail reporting, and a whole lot more.

See how you can take control of your own direct mail fundraising results when you get your very own free copy of the Direct Mail Owner’s Manual.

Published by Tracy Howard