Is Direct Mail Dead for Filmmakers?

by Faith F
(post date: May 12, 2012)

There is much debate in the fundraising community as to whether direct mail is dead or thriving.

Some non-profits have completely eliminated direct mail as a fundraising tool, while others continue to find it to be a powerful and effective method for soliciting funds.

What Is Direct Mail?

Direct mail is a form of advertising that involves sending out an identical item such as a fundraising letter, postcard or advertisement to a large group of people.

The item is sent in bulk via the postal service or other mass distribution methods (i.e. newspapers) to a targeted list, such as a special interest group or people living in a particular geographic region with the purpose of soliciting a response (donating, purchasing a product, volunteering, voting, rsvp, etc).

Is Direct Mail Dead for Filmmakers?

Direct mail used to be the ONLY way for filmmakers to reach large numbers of individuals. Here's an example of a direct mail campaign posted on

“Paris Poirier who made the documentary Last Call at Maud's (1993) used direct mail for her documentary. She printed 18,000 pieces. 3,000 were sent to people the filmmakers knew, and 15,000 were used as an insert in a monthly newsletter. Their paper and printing were donated. They spent $1000 for postage and insert fees. Their letter brought them $8,500 from 80 different individuals. The largest donation was $500 from someone they didn't even know. Poirier created nine different versions of a letter. Her strategy was to appeal for larger donations of $100 and $200 dollars. She offered a space in the credits for that donation. She also made it possible for people to give small donations of $20 each.”

For filmmakers, online fundraising and crowdfunding platforms such as IndieGoGo and KickStarter have essentially replaced direct mail. Potentially tens of thousands of people can be reached at a fraction of the cost.

But I believe there's still a place for direct mail in a filmmaker's fundraising efforts.

With electronic communication choking our e-mail inboxes, smartphones and social media accounts, “snail mail” is an area ripe for opportunity.

If you have an older audience you are trying to reach or you have a long list of mailing addresses with no e-mails and/or just want to stand out in some way, snail mail should definitely be considered as part of your fundraising mix.

You may not want to send tens of thousands of pieces, but perhaps a few hundred heart-felt letters to a very targeted list of people.

To understand some of the positives about direct mail, read Don't Count Direct Mail Out by the Australian Direct Marketing Association. Obviously, it's in their benefit to promote direct mail since that's their business, but they make some interesting points. For example, they reference the fact that Google uses direct mail.

Here are a few ways you may want to use direct mail:

  • Send a simple, personalized fundraising letter
  • Send a postcard announcing the film premiere
  • Create a printed newsletter
  • Send an order form for the documentary
In summary, sending a letter in the mail may seem old fashioned, but can help you stand out from the “electronic” crowd. Beware that costs can add up quickly for a large mailing and may or may not pay off depending on the strength of your letter and the interest of the person receiving the appeal.

Learn more about documentary fundraising strategies.

What do you think? Is direct mail dead for filmmakers?

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