Direct Mail


Introduction to direct mail

Key principles for direct mail

What information to include in direct mail

Direct mail and data protection

Key points to consider for direct mail



Introduction to direct mail 

Direct mail is any print-based fundraising material delivered to people, including addressed mail, unaddressed (door-drops) and inserts.

Top tips for direct mail


- Make sure you are processing all individual data in line with data protection legislation

- Give people the opportunity to opt out of future communications in each mailing

- Always adhere to supporters' contact preferences

- If you store or use information about your supporters or potential supporters, you must also keep their data and contact information safe and secure

- Ensure your content is appropriate, avoiding the use of offensive material and complying with copyright laws and advertising regulations (the CAP Codes)

- Make it clear who and what you are fundraising for, including your charity name, registered charity number, address and how any funds will be split/spent if you are working with other charities or commercial partners

- Treat fundraising enclosures with caution. Any enclosures should be relevant, safe and should not cause any inconvenience to the recipient

- Check that any third parties will uphold these standards and write this into relevant contracts and agreements


- Send direct mail to supporters who have asked you not to

- Share any personal data without explicit permission

- Mail supporters too frequently

- Send chain mail letters

- Target your fundraising packs at children under the age of 16



Key principles for direct mail

The CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Codes, regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority, states that marketing must always be legal, decent, honest and truthful.These principles are echoed in the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Read our full guidance on data protection here, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 


Keeping it legal

Marketing law and best practice are clearly set out in the CAP Code and the Code of Fundraising Practice. Always check the Code and the latest data protection guidelines. 


Keeping it decent

Fundraising campaigns often deal with sensitive and emotive topics, but they must be decent and cannot cause serious or widespread offence.

Be cautious around the use of 'shock tactics', weighing up the potential benefits against the risks. Make sure you can justify the use of any images or text that may shock or offend people, with a clear warning given on the outer envelope of any mailings.

Carefully consider the impact of any controversial campaigns on people who may be vulnerable (see our Treating Donors Fairly guidance).

Make sure you have measures in place to ensure that more confrontational campaigns are reviewed at an early stage of development by experienced and senior people within the charity. Also consider such campaigns from the perspective of supporters and beneficiaries alike. 


Keeping it honest and truthful

Ensure your marketing materials are truthful and don't mislead people whether by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise. This means making it clear who and what you are fundraising for and including a statement to show how any funds will be split if you are working with other charities or commercial partners.

Check that you can substantiate any claims made in your marketing materials.

When using case studies, make sure they accurately represent your charity's work and/or its beneficiaries.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) runs a Copy Advice Service to check the intended content of marketing campaigns and answer questions about data use.


What information to include in direct mail

How you communicate your charity's need for funds will vary from organisation to organisation, but there are some basic requirements that should be included on every charity mailing. This includes the:

- Charity name

- Registered number

- Postal address

- Option for recipients to opt out of future marketing communications

- Clear statement about how donations will be used and, if working with third parties, how funds will be split

Typically, charities include website and email addresses on mail literature, as well as relevant contact numbers, making it as easy as possible for supporters or beneficiaries to reach them. 

Always remember that fundraising materials should be inclusive and accessible. Consider the needs of your recipients and do what you can to ensure that you provide the information in a variety of formats (see our Treating Donors Fairly guidance).


Direct mail and data protection

If you are using any personal data (for example an individual’s name and address) you need to do so in line with data protection legislation. Go to the Information Commissioner’s Office for all the requirements about handling personal data lawfully.

Charities using direct mail for fundraising will usually need to be registered with Information Commissioner’s Office.

Read our full guidance on data protection here, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Who can we mail and how can we ensure we're handling data appropriately?

The key thing to remember is that supporters should be able to choose how they receive information from your charity. In practice, this means:

- Asking people how they want to hear from you

- Including opportunities for them to opt out of future communications

- Making sure you don't mail people who have asked you not to or where explicit consent is required

- Avoiding sending fundraising mail to anyone under the age of 16

- If data has been rented or bought, checking that it has been run against relevant suppression files (such as the Mailing Preference Service, Telephone Preference Service and commercially available deceased registers)

- Not sending or encouraging the use of chain letters, where recipients are encouraged to send copies of a letter to a specific number of people, for fundraising purposes

Once you have obtained any personal data, you'll need to treat that information with care. The key things to remember are:

- To treat any data respectfully

- Not to share personal data without explicit permission to do so

- Not to retain any information on an individual that you would not be comfortable sharing with them

- To keep any personal or contact information updated


Key points to consider for direct mail

Fundraising mail can either be addressed to specific individuals or delivered as unaddressed door drops. Different techniques will be used for different campaigns. Typically, addressed mail requires good data management and may come at a greater cost (including staff time and data management), but achieves higher response rates than unaddressed mail. The latter can be relatively quick to distribute, but is often identified as 'junk mail' and can contribute to concerns about environmental waste.

Addressed mail

If your mail campaign is to be targeted and addressed, you'll need to have good and up-to-date records that are well maintained. Targeted campaigns should be built around any knowledge you have of your intended audience and, where relevant, their response to previous campaigns. Consider if the mailing is likely to be relevant and of interest to them. Is the donation amount set at the right level for that audience segment? When did you last approach that supporter for funds (see below, How often can we mail supporters)?

Test the effectiveness of your mail campaigns and use that information to inform future campaigns.


Unaddressed mail

Unaddressed mail can be relatively quick and easy to distribute. When sending out unaddressed mail, be aware of the potential negative impact of a delivery method that cannot identify current supporters and bypasses safeguards such as the Mailing Preference Service. It is also important to look into door-to-door suppression schemes in the area. Always consider the environmental impact and potential reputational risk of issuing large volumes of unsolicited mail that may be perceived as 'junk mail'.


How often can we mail supporters?

Although you will want to keep your supporters informed and engaged with your work, be aware overly frequent mailings may upset supporters and this may damage the relationship you have with them. Some people may be more comfortable with higher levels of communication from the charity, while others may want little or no mailings or prefer to be communicated with in other ways (such as email). Make sure you log and take into account any feedback about the frequency of mail.


What is good practice for charity case studies?

Where case studies are used, you must make sure they accurately portray the situation, whether that is the experiences of those who are helped by the charity and/or the effect of the charity's work on beneficiaries. 

If featuring real individuals in campaigns, make sure you comply with data protection regulations and duties of confidentiality, gaining permission from the individual(s) featured. To protect their identity, you might change their names or use models, but it is important to make this clear within your campaign.


What environmental issues do we need to consider?

It is important to consider the impact of all fundraising activity on the environment, particularly when it comes to: mailings, the source of paper and other materials used, frequency, potential waste, and enclosures. 

Claims such as 'environmentally friendly' or 'wholly biodegradable' should only be used with justification. Where applicable, organisations are encouraged to display a recycling logo such as 'recycle now' on mail packs.


What enclosures can we include?

Enclosures in direct mail packs can take a variety of forms. These might include incentives to encourage donations, inserts that demonstrate the work of the charity or thank you gifts.

Used well, they can be an effective tool for fundraising, awareness-raising and supporter engagement. Poorly used, they can provoke a negative reaction from recipients; raising concerns that funds have been used carelessly, or concerns over environmental wastage. This can pose a reputational risk to the organisation and wider sector. 

If you're including enclosures, you must be able to demonstrate that the purpose of the enclosure is to enhance the message and/or the emotional engagement in the cause, rather than to induce donations out of a feeling of guilt or embarrassment. Avoid including enclosures that might be difficult to deliver or cause inconvenience for the recipient.

Always consider the safety of any enclosures and their environmental impact, encouraging recipients to recycle where possible.