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Are you new to fundraising? Or know someone who is?

Here’s a list of common fundraising direct mail terms from my book, The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising. Feel free to bookmark this and come back to it. You will need this working with a mailhouse, and also, as you go along in your fundraising journey. Want to be a development director? This is a good list of terms for you to know. Working at a direct mail agency? This list of terms can help you. Let me know if you have questions!

Accordion fold: Two or more parallel folds in a letter so it opens like an accordion.

Acquisition mailing: A fundraising package mailed to prospects to acquire them as new members or donors.

Active donor: A donor whose last gift was received within the last 12 months. Some organizations stretch that time period out to 18 or 24 months.

Address accuracy: The percentage of matches that a database attains when compared with a national address database.

Address block: The format in which name and address are printed on top of letters.

Annual appeal: Either the only fundraising letter, or the most important fundraising letter, mailed during the year, usually by organizations that do not have a direct mail fundraising program. Usually mailed at Christmas.

Annual fund: Gifts received by a non-profit organization to support (in whole or in part) yearly budgets and general operations.

Ask: The request or appeal being made in a fundraising letter. Often called “The ask.”

Ask string: In a fundraising letter, the sequence of values found on the reply card that lets donors chose the amount they wish to donate, usually expressed in a currency. For example: $25 [ ] $35 [ ] $50 [ ] Other ______

Attrition: Loss of donors because they die, move, lose their job, change their giving priorities or for other reasons can no longer donate.

Attrition rate: The rate at which donors do not renew their gifts, usually expressed as a percentage of active donors.

Average gift: In a direct mail fundraising campaign, the total money received divided by the total number of gifts received.

Bleed: In printing, the extension of color to the edge of the page, accomplished by printing on oversized paper and trimming the excess.

Bounce: An email message returned to the sender with a notice indicating why the transmission failed (messages commonly bounce because the email address of the addressee is incorrect or is no longer active).

Bounce rate: In email fundraising, the percentage of visitors to a website who leave (bounce away) without getting any deeper into the site. Each page has its own bounce rate.

Breakeven: Donations received equal cost of the mailing.

Business Reply Card (BRC): A card included in a mailing to simplify reader response. One side contains a response form that the donor completes, the other side features the return address and pre-paid postage.

Business Reply Envelope (BRE): A self-addressed envelope whose postage is paid for by the organization that prints it.


Call to action: Copy that encourages the reader to respond, and describes how (by mailing in a reply card or phoning a toll-free number, for example).

Call out: A short section of copy, usually rendered in bold or larger typeface, and often set off from the main text, that emphasizes key points about the case for support, benefits of donating, or other key messages.

Carrier: The envelope that contains the letter and other contents of your direct mail message. Also called a carrier envelope or outer envelope.

Cashiering: Processing and depositing donations received in response to a direct mail appeal.

Cleaning: The process of correcting or removing names from a mailing list.

Clickthroughs: Readers who have clicked on a tracked link in an HTML email message.


Copy: The written portion—the words—of your direct mail fundraising package.

Cost Per Piece: Cost to produce each package (carrier envelope, letter, reply device, reply envelope) in a mailing. Usually includes writing, design, printing, list rental and postage. Calculated by dividing total mailing costs by the number of pieces mailed.

Cost to raise a dollar: Popular measurement used by fundraisers to gauge the cost effectiveness of their fundraising methods. Measures the amount that must be spent to raise one dollar of income. Calculated by dividing fundraising campaign costs by gross income.

CPM (Cost Per Thousand): One of the most common measurements in advertising and direct marketing. Tells you how much you must spend to communicate your sales message to one thousand people. The M in CPM stands for Mille, the Roman numeral used to represent 1,000.

Coupon: Slip of paper included in a direct mail fundraising package, which the donor completes and returns to the sender with a donation, usually in a postage-paid business reply envelope. Also called a reply device.

Data card: Detailed description of a mailing list, supplied by list brokers and list owners.

Donor acknowledgment: The act of responding to gifts from donors, usually with a receipt or thank-you letter.

Donor acquisition cost: The cost of a mailing after gross income has been subtracted, divided by the number of donors acquired, and expressed in dollars and cents per donor acquired.

Donor conversion: The process of encouraging one-time donors (usually acquired through an acquisition mailing) to give again and become regular supporters of the organization.

Donor cultivation: The long-term process of nurturing donors towards higher levels of understanding, commitment and giving.

Donor file: A computer database containing the names, addresses and donation history of a non-profit organization’s donors.

Donor renewal: The process of approaching individuals who have given donations before, inviting them to renew their support with another gift.

Donor retention: The process of encouraging donors to remain active and continuing supporters of an organization.

Double Opt-In: The process of requiring subscribers to an email list to confirm their membership before being added to the list. Subscribers opt-in once by subscribing to the list, and opt-in the second time by confirming their subscription.

Drop date: The calendar date when a direct mail campaign is to be delivered to the post office for mailing.

Dupe: Short for duplicate. Identical or almost identical names that appear more than once in a mailing list.

Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT): The means by which a donor’s bank transfers a donation (usually monthly) from the donor’s bank account to the bank account of your non-profit organization.

Exchange: A transaction where two mailers exchange equal quantities of mailing list names.

File: A structured collection of customer records.

Flash count: Report that summarizes the results of a mailing over a given period of time, usually by response rate and average gift.

Former donor: Someone who has not made a donation for 24 months or longer. Not to be confused with a Lapsed Donor.

Frequency: The number of times a donor has given a donation within a given time frame.

Front end: All the activities (writing, designing, printing, mailing) necessary to generate a gift by mail.

Front-End Premium: An item (such as return address labels) offered to a donor in a direct mail package, usually at no charge, to encourage them to make a donation.

Fulfillment rate: The percentage of people who give a donation after pledging to do so, usually following a telephone solicitation that requests pledges instead of immediate cash gifts.

Fundraising ratio: The ratio used to gauge the cost-effectiveness of fundraising campaigns and programs, usually expressed as the ratio of cost to revenue or cost to raise a dollar.

Giving club: A society created by a non-profit that gives status and unique benefits to its members. Membership is restricted to individuals who give above a certain level.

Hard bounce: An email message that permanently fails to reach its intended recipient but instead returns to the sender. Causes include non-existent domains and the recipient being unknown.

House list: A list of names and addresses that a non-profit has compiled from inquiries, donations or acquisition, used to request donations.

Indicia: A unique printed artwork box in the top right corner of an envelope, authorized by the post office, indicating that postage has been paid by the mailer.

Ink-Jet Printing: Process performed by the printer to quickly print donor name, address, keycode and other variable data on each piece of mail.

Involvement device: An element in a direct mail fundraising package that donors peel off, sign, cut out or handle with their hands in others ways. Involvement devices can boost response, and include surveys, petitions, stamps and stickers.

Key code: A group of letters or numbers (or combination of letters and numbers), colors or other marks, usually placed on donation forms or reply cards, to help mailers measure the effectiveness of their mailing lists, asks, creative, timing and other variables.

Landing page: A web page where people go once they click on an online advertisement or search listing. In online fundraising, the landing page is usually the page where the donor makes a donation, having arrived there by clicking a link in an email appeal letter.

Lapsed donor: A donor who has not sent a gift during the last 12 months.

Laser printing: Process of personalizing direct mail letters and reply devices with information unique to each individual donor file, and usually performed by a printshop on a commercial laser photocopier. Also called lasering.

Printshop: A business that addresses, folds, inserts, sorts and applies postage to direct mail fundraising packages, and delivers them to the post office for mailing.

List: Also called a mailing list. Names and addresses of individuals who share a common characteristic (such as all being women, or all being people who donate to organizations that protect the environment).

List broker: A specialist who helps a not-for-profit organization rent or borrow a list from a list owner (usually a business or another not-for-profit). Services include research, selection and recommendation of lists.

List compiler: An individual, service bureau or business that assembles mailing lists from directories, government records and other public sources.

List exchange: A transaction in which two organizations swap donor, member or subscriber lists, usually one for one, so that each organization can mail to the other organization’s list.

List owner: The individual or organization that owns the right to rent or lend a mailing list.

List rental: The process of renting a mailing list for a one-time mailing.

List test: A mailing sent to a small, random sampling of a list (perhaps 500 names) to determine if mailing to the entire list will be profitable.

Live stamp: An ordinary postage stamp, sometimes affixed to a carrier envelope or reply device to boost response.

Mail-responsive: Term used to describe individuals who are known to respond to direct mail offers or appeals for funds.

Membership renewal: A direct mail package sent to members of a non-profit organization, inviting them to renew their membership by paying their annual dues.

Merge/purge: The act of combining (merging) two or more lists into one list while removing (purging) duplicate names.

Multi-Donors: Donors, members or subscribers whose names are found on two or more lists of prospective donors.

Negative option: A direct mail buying option in which the donor agrees to receive and pay for products or services at regular intervals (such as receiving a book a month) unless the donor tells the not-for-profit in advance not to ship the product.

Open rate: Number of emails opened by recipients, expressed as a percentage of total emails sent.

Personalization: The process of customizing each package in a mailing so that each package contains information that is unique and personal for each recipient. Areas of personalization include name and address, salutation, and date and amount of last gift.

Pledge card: A printed notice mailed to individuals who pledge to donate to an organization, usually in response to a telephone appeal.

Postage-paid envelope: A self-addressed envelope whose postage is paid for by the organization that prints it. Also called a Business Reply Envelope, or BRE.

Premium: An item offered to a donor, usually at no charge, to encourage them to make a donation. Premiums that are included in the mail package are called front-end premiums. Premiums that the donor must request are called back-end premiums.

Presort: Discount offered by post office to mailers who transport letters directly to the post office sorted in the order that they will be delivered by the letter carrier (usually sorted by postal code or zip code). Also called Letter Carrier Presort.

Pressure-Sensitive Labels: Mailing labels that do not require moistening before being affixed to an envelope. Also called peel-off or peel-and-stick labels.

Prospect: A person on a list who is considered to be a potential donor but who has not made a donation yet.

Prospect mailing: A direct mail appeal sent to prospective donors or members. Also called an acquisition mailing.

Purge: To remove duplicates or unwanted names from a mailing list.

Record: A single, unique entry in a database with some or all of the fields specified. A record in a donor database, for example, contains the information for one donor, including such things as name, address and phone number. A record in a database is usually the equivalent of a row in a spreadsheet.

Renewal mailing: A direct mail fundraising package mailed to donors or members who have supported the organization’s work, inviting the donor or member to renew support with a donation.

Reply card: A card included in a mailing, which the donor completes and returns to the sender in response to the ask. Often postage-paid.

Response count: The number of responses received from a mailing, expressed as a total number rather than a percentage.

Response device: The coupon, order form or reply card that a donor completes and returns to the sender to complete a donation.

Response rate: The number of responses received from a mailing, expressed as a percentage of the total number mailed.

Return Postage Guaranteed: An endorsement printed on the face of envelopes stating the sender will pay the post office to return undeliverable standard (third-class) bulk mail.

Salutation: The way in which the donor is addressed at the start of a letter (“Dear Tom” or “Dear Friend,” for example).

Seeding lists: The practice of adding (seeding) unique names to a mailing list so that the list owner can verify that the list is used according to the terms of the list rental agreement. If a non-profit organization mails letters to a rented list more times than it is allowed to, the list owner will know because the seeded names in the list will receive each mailing, and notify the list owner of what is going on. Also called “salting lists.”

Segmentation: The practice of dividing mailing lists into segments (such as major donors, monthly donors, lapsed members) so that each segment receives a customized appeal letter.

Self mailer: A direct mail piece that mails without an envelope.

Sorting: Process of arranging envelopes in zip code or postal code order before mailing to improve delivery and, for large mailings, reduce postage costs.

Source code: A group of letters or numbers (or combination of letters and numbers), usually placed on donation forms or reply cards, and stored afterwards in  donor database records, to help mailers determine the list or segment of a list from which the donor’s name and address originated. Also called a key code.

Source code report: An analysis of source keys (key codes indicating the source of a list) that shows the profitability of each list used in a donor acquisition mailing.

Special appeal: A direct mail fundraising package, mailed to existing donors or members, inviting them to support a particular program, project or fund. Often mailed several times a year.

Sustainer Program: A program through which supporters of a non-profit organization give a regular donation automatically, usually by direct withdrawal from their bank account or credit card once a month. Also called a Monthly Giving Program.

Test mailing: The first appeal that a non-profit organization mails to potential donors, to discover if direct mail is a cost-effective way for the organization to acquire donors and raise funds.

Unique names: The names and addresses that remain after two or more mailing lists are merged and then purged of duplicate names and invalid addresses.

Upgrade: The process of persuading donors to increase the size or frequency of their gifts.

Window envelope: An envelope with a die cut hole on the face, covered with clear acetate, that reveals the mailing address, return address or special messages written on the enclosed materials.

Want more fundraising 101 resources? How to get sponsors? Run an event? Write grants? And more?

Check out my book, The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising

Wild Woman Fundraising

Wild Woman Fundraising Book

OR for getting a fundraising job, see Get the job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide.

Get the Job! Your fundraising career empowerment guide

Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide