How to Personalize Your Direct Mail Solicitations

by Chatise R. Smith

The annual giving team has seen the benefits of incorporating variable data into direct mail solicitations. In FY20, the Fall Direct Mail Solicitation—one of UGA’s largest and most personalized mailings to date—brought in over $250,000. Since then, our team has fielded a number of questions about how we personalize our mail pieces. Today, I’m sharing tips on how you can personalize your unit’s direct mail solicitations using variable data. I’ll be using our FY20 Spring Direct Mail Solicitation as an example.

What is variable personalization in direct mail?

Variable personalization incorporates variable (interchangeable) data into specific areas of a mail piece such as the contribution card, copy, images, and more. Think of it as a “mail merge” but more technical. [Note: Variable data is rendered in pink in the final layout. The color serves as a prompt to the printer.]

Variable Data Example

Why should my unit use variable data?

Personalization sells! There’s no doubt about it. In 2017, Accenture Consulting found that 55% of nonprofit donors would give or volunteer more in exchange for a more personalized experience. 59% of the survey respondents said they would give up to 10% more, 25% would donate up to 25% more, and 8% said they would donate up to 50% more.

 GAIL houses a plethora of information such as a constituent’s degree area, giving history, giving capacity, and more.* Specific examples include:

  • Educational degree affiliation(s)
  • Interested causes
  • Most recent fund designation
  • Largest fund designation
  • Degree affiliation designation(s)

*This list is not exhaustive. Consider all of the information we store in GAIL for each constituent and consider how your unit can use that information to personalize a direct mail piece. The various types of information available can be found on a constituent’s profile page. To access this information for your unit’s mailing(s), create an ASKIT ticket and ask for the information to be included in your marketing effort export definition.

How can I use the variable data available to me?

Each type of variable data can serve a different purpose in your mailer. Here are a few examples:

  • Educational degree affiliation(s) – This information can justify including a unit-specific buckslip in a mailer to multi-affiliation constituents; the variable data determining which constituents will receive which inserts. If your unit has various departments, you might create a custom buckslip for each department.
College Personalization Example


  • Most recent fund designation – This information can be included on a contribution card to prompt donors to make a gift to a specific designation. If your donors often give to funds in your unit, it is a good method to entice donors to continue.
Fund Personalization Example
  • Causes – Each school/college was surveyed to determine what causes and relevant designations best represent their unit. The Causes giving page encourages donors to explore designations by cause. Consider incorporating your unit’s related cause funds into a contribution card using variable data and note in which causes your constituents seem to be most interested.

Here are a few basic tips for personalizing a direct mail piece:

  • Coordinate your personalized project early – Variable data can take time to collect and specifications can be hard to write up. Determine exactly what data you need and start to collect it early. If you are working with other units, provide them with specific guidelines and timelines as soon as possible.
  • Use the information available to you Consider what information you already have on your constituents and use it to personalize their direct mail pieces
  • Ask your donors what they like Survey your donors to discover what motivates them to give—and then solicit based on that feedback. Identify which variable data is best to use, based on what motivates your donors: causes, school/college support, general love for your university, etc.
  • Get creative – Variable data can be gleaned and used for many, many reasons. Get creative and think outside the box. Use the information you have access to for more reasons that one.

To learn more about direct mail variable personalization, contact Chatise Smith in Annual Giving.


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