Tuto­r­i­al 56: strat­e­gy for the small organisation.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 04, 2019

I often receive telephone calls from executives of small organisations expressing a high level of frustration because they urgently need to develop more income from their small mailing list.

Obviously, they realise they face problems that a large charity doesn’t have to worry about. They usually can’t afford to hire professional consultants or even a staff person trained in direct mail fundraising. Quite often the top executive plans the mailing programme and writes the appeal letters in his spare time.

However, some small organisations have successful mailing programmes.

Here are a few techniques that seem to work for these small organisations:


They follow the basic fundraising principles that apply to any marketing situation, large or small.

  • Plan and execute a systematic mailing programme that gives the donor adequate opportunity to respond to appeals.
  • Segment the mailing list and slant copy according to the status (e.g. recency, frequency, value of past gifts) of the individual on the mailing lists.
  • Use suggested dollar amounts.


The individual who runs the organisation works to develop a strong image and the organisation communicates that strong image to the donors.

  • Since this image is developed in a consistent way through the mailings, a small organisation never sends out a letter co-signed by two board members.
  • The image they communicate is that the organisation is not the work of a committee, but the burden of an individual.


They take great pains to avoid looking like an institution. For example, they

  • Avoid institutional looking logos.
  • Talk more about the needs of the people they help than the meetings of their board of directors.
  • Often use small, intimate, personalised formats for their mailings. Many times they avoid a standard carrier envelope, simply because so many organisations use that size.
  • Often use the personal letterhead of the chief executive, rather than an organisational letterhead.


They change formats many times during the course of a year to communicate to their donors that they are moving forward, not stuck in a rut.


They use personalisation as often as possible.

  • Many times this includes highly customised and personalised letters to their major donors.
  • The smaller the mailing list, the more important personalisation becomes.
  • They try to avoid the ‘computer look’ that the major organisations use by using personalisation at a deeper level.


They use a great deal of first-class postage and they often put a live postage stamp on the reply envelope.


They take advantage of their smallness by playing the role of the underdog and talking about how small they are. They explain what a good job they are doing with the money they receive and how they must struggle to stay alive, etc.


For the portions of the lists they don’t mail first class, they almost always use a postal metre for their nonprofit indicia. This gives the look of first class mail.


They give their major donors tender loving care, which often includes visits to the home, telephone calls, special dinners and events where the major donors are honoured, etc.

They have an advantage over the large organisation, in that they can often be closer to their major donors and communicate with them on a more personal level.

Combined with this, they often have strong local committees who are assigned to make personal calls on major donors. In a way, their fundraising programme is a combination of direct mail and personal contact techniques, because if they rely wholly upon direct mail they simply won’t generate sufficient income to keep their operation afloat.


They often use the ‘challenge gift’ technique because, with their small budgets, it is not as difficult to find an individual who will provide a significant challenge gift for the donors to match.


They find that a pace-setting gift by a major donor often helps generate income during the annual giving campaign.


They find that telethons, as a follow-up to the annual giving programme, are quite effective and it is possible for a small organisation to contact every donor by telephone at least once a year. (They look up the donor phone numbers manually and don’t rely on computer matches.)


They almost never mail out a ‘routine appeal’.

Instead, every appeal is for a very specific project.

They have an advantage over the major organisations, because with their limited overheads, they have less worry about receiving too many gifts that are restricted to specific projects.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger was revered in direct marketing circles as the ‘dean of direct mail’. Many years ago, Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII. All 57 of them are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide that covers everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising. Sadly, Jerry passed away in August 2023. 

These tutorials were edited and presented to SOFII by Gwen Chapman. Gwen is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance of these tutorials here.

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