The 7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 7)

By: Wayne Gurley

The timing of your mailing can make a big difference between a successful effort and one that lays a big goose egg. In fundraising, here are a few things to keep in mind…


Are some months better than others to mail? Yes, but knowing which months to mail isn’t as much of a challenge as it used to be.

Most people believe that the best times to mail are in the fall and the spring. In fact, if you look at a graph of direct mail volume, it looks a lot like a “roller coaster,” going up in the spring (March, April and May), down during the summer (June, July and August), and back up for a big finish in the fall (September, October, November and December).

But is this really true?


For years, direct mail volume was dictated by when people were working or going to school and when they were taking vacations. Also, for much of the 20th century, America was locked into a “seasonal” or “agricultural” economy, which dictated patterns of crop growth and harvest.

This slowly has been changing for the past 20-30 years. But suffice it to say that one of the big reasons children did not go to school in the summer was that they were out in the fields helping bring in crops. This often took all summer and, in some cases extended into the fall. As an economic necessity, children could not attend school during the summer months.


Another reason for school being out during the summer – no air conditioning! The advent of air conditioning, particularly in the south, changed the mindset that children couldn’t attend school during the summer. Today, a number of school systems have switched to year-round school schedules, which may not be popular but certainly will serve to further change the dynamic of “off” summer months.

Even though we now have more of a service economy than agricultural, the same psychological mindset is still in effect – work or go to school during the fall, winter and spring, and vacation during the hot summer months.


The main reasons to be in the mail during the fall months are the two “feel-good” holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas – and the year-end “tax brick wall” of December 31.

Will recent changes in tax laws regarding the deductibility of charitable gifts change this?  It's hard to tell and only time will tell.

But if you can wrap your appeal around one or both of these holidays, you can still probably take advantage of the inherent psychological need of an individual to “share” his or her blessings with others during a time of year that promotes “peace on earth and good will toward men.”

Do you get more loyal donors in the fall vs. the spring?

In my opinion, not necessarily. I don’t have a lot of hard data on this, but several years ago we looked at the value/loyalty of an organization’s donors acquired in the spring vs. those acquired in the fall.

Donors acquired in the spring were more loyal. They made more repeat gifts, and more of them were still giving long after those who gave for the first time in the fall.

My educated guess is that it has a lot to do with their motivation for giving. Motivation for giving in the fall may be “peace on earth, good will toward men,” and not necessarily because they like your organization all that much.

But donors giving for the first time in the spring are a bit different, because they have no such motivation. Their motivation for giving is that they think highly of your organization.


In my view, most organizations want to be in the mail during the spring and fall months due to the fact that everyone else is in the mail. So, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But some of the best appeals we’ve done for our clients have been during the summer. A successful children’s home’s “Back To School” appeal drops in July, since school begins in August.

Due to the heavier mailing season in the fall, we encourage our clients to consider mailing earlier in the fall season, like September and October. There’s simply a ton of mailbox competition in November and December.

But don’t be afraid to mail in months that might not make the “Top 5″ in best months to mail – like August.


  1. Holidays – When mailing around a holiday, fund-raisers are well-advised to drop their appeals approximately four to five weeks before the actual holiday. In other words, your Thanksgiving appeal should go out no later than about the third week of October, and your Holiday/Christmas appeal should drop around the third week of November, just before or just after Thanksgiving.
  2. You don’t want your mailing to arrive during the week of a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas or when folks are away during a long weekend, like Memorial Day. What usually happens is that people who have been out of town come back to a big pile of mail, and they tend to trash it instead of reading it.
  3. December – When mailing in December, try to get in the mail no later than the first week of the month. The reason? The postal system is so clogged during this time of year, your mail might get delivered quickly enough to get a response back before Christmas or December 31 – unless you use first class postage, which might be too expensive.
  4. End of the Month – Some direct mail consultants advise mailing at the end of the month to take advantage of the fact that seniors receive their Social Security checks around the first of the month (precisely on the first if they have direct deposit). This, of course, depends upon whether your key donor demographic is in the 66+ age group.
  5. Significant Events – Mailing too close to “disaster” events like a terrorist attack, hurricane or tsunami can have a deleterious effect on the response of your mailings. Usually it’s best to wait several weeks after a significant event like this to send your mailing.
  6. Bad Economy – A struggling economy can have an effect on mail results, but a poor economy usually doesn’t improve quickly. Sometimes you have to take your lumps and keep on mailing in hopes that things will turn around. What typically happens during times like these is - people still give, but at a lower average gift. You may need to lower the amount of your ask in order to maintain participation.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment