for your edification and learning, are definitions of terms and jargon used in the direct mail industry and among
non-profit organizations who raise funds with fundraising appeal letters. This
is a work in progress, added to weekly.
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.
Addressed Admail: Canada Post Corporation's category for bulk or third-class postage that applies to large quantities of identical pieces that are prepared for mailing before being delivered to the post office.
Address service requested: A message appearing on mailing envelopes that authorizes the post
office to charge the sender a fee for providing a new address (where known) of a donor or member
no longer at the address on the mailing piece.
Alphanumeric: A set of characters that contains letters and numbers, and
perhaps punctuation marks, such as a Key code: JUN-0909-L21.
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
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.
Back end: All the activities necessary to receive, process and receipt a
gift once it has been received.
Back-end premium: A free gift offered to donors in exchange for a donation,
often a donation above a stated amount.
Back Test: A test mailing designed to reproduce,
and therefore confirm, the results of a recent direct mail test. Also called a
retest or confirming test. Usually run when the results of a test fall within an
acceptable range but do not give the mailer enough confidence to
roll-out to the entire list.
Bangtail: Promotional return envelope featuring a
perforated slip of paper beneath the flap. Readers
tear off, complete and include this slip in the
Bind-in: A promotional reply device or order form that is stitched into the gutter of a print publication, such as a donor newsletter or annual report.
Bingo card: A reply card inserted in a magazine
and used by readers to request free samples and
literature from organizations who advertised in
the issue. Many advertisers are listed on the
reply card. Readers circle the advertisers they
are interested in (much as bingo players circle
winning numbers on their bingo card).
Bleed: In printing, the extension of colour to the edge
of the page, accomplished by printing on oversized
paper and trimming the excess.
Blow in: A promotional card inserted into a magazine during assembly (which falls onto the floor as you read the magazine).
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.
Broadside: A single sheet of paper, printed on one
side or both, folded for mailing or direct distribution,
and opening (much as a broadside daily newspaper does)
into a single, large advertisement.
Buckslip: Slip of paper the size of a dollar bill, inserted
into a direct mail fundraising package, reiterating the main points of
the letter, or describing something else, such as planned giving or
monthly giving opportunities.
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.
Caging: The process of recording gift amount, date of gift,
donor name and other data from a direct mail fundraising campaign.
Taken from the 19th Century post office practice of placing sorted
mail into small wire enclosures, called cages.
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.
Carrier Route: A group of addresses that a mail carrier can deliver to in
a single day. Carrier Routes "roll up" into ZIP Codes. There are roughly
15 ZIP Codes per Carrier Route.
Carrier Route Presort: In Canada, mail that is sorted before delivery to Canada Post, arriving
at the post office in bundles assigned to the routes that each letter carrier walks, and qualifying
the mailer for discounts on postage.
Cashiering: Processing and depositing donations received in response to a
direct mail appeal.
Cells: In list terminology, a cell is a statistical unit or units A group of individuals selected from a file on a common basis and isolated as a group.
Cheshire labels: Address labels printed on specially
prepared paper and mechanically affixed to mailing
envelopes one at a time.
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.
Closed-face envelope: An envelope that does not have a window.
Cluster selection: A list selection technique in which groups of names (clusters)
are taken from a list in a series. A cluster selection on an nth name basis, for example,
might select the first 10 names out of every 100 names.
Compiled list: Names and addresses that are
compiled into a list from directories, newspapers,
trade show registrations and other sources, to
group prospects who share something in common.
Confirming test: See Back test.
Continuation mailing: Mailing a package to the remaining portion of a mailing list after having tested
the package on a smaller portion of that list. See Rollout.
Control package: A direct mail package (usually a donor acquisition package)
that is the best performing so far, and against which all new packages are tested.
Controlled circulation: Distribution at no charge of
a publication (such as a trade journal) to individuals
or businesses based on their job title or industry.
Readers qualify to receive the publication based on
their ability to purchase or influence the purchase
of products and services advertised in the publication.
(See Paid Circulation.)
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.
Decoy: A unique name inserted into a mailing list so
that the list owner can verify that the mailing 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 decoy names in the list will
receive each mailing, and notify the list owner of
what is going on.
Donor acknowledgement: 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 organizationís 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.
Dupe rate: The amount of names in a mailing list identified as
duplicates, expressed as a percentage.
Duplex lasering: Laser printing on the front and back of a letter or promotional piece,
usually performed at the lettershop.
Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT): The means by which a donorís bank
transfers a donation (usually monthly) from the donorís bank account to the bank
account of a non-profit organization that the donor designates.
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
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.
Hand-match insert: The process of hand inserting personalized package
elements, such as certificates of appreciation, into closed-face mailing
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.
Hotline list: The most recent names available on a list, typically names added within the last three months.
House list: A list of names and addresses that a non-profit
has compiled from inquiries, donations or acquisition, used
to request donations.
Independent Sector: The part of the economy consisting of non-profit organizations.
Also called the Non-profit Sector.
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 lettershop to quickly print donor
name, address, keycode and other variable data on each piece of mail.
Insert: See Package Insert.
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
John Samples: Sample direct mail packages addressed to a fictitious John Sample of Any Street, Any City, and kept by the
mailer as a record of the look and contents of each mailing.
Johnson Box: Copy
placed at the top of an appeal letter and surrounded by a box or other graphic
element, usually highlighting member benefits or the need, to persuade donors to
read on. Named after Frank Johnson, American direct mail pioneer, who invented
the device to promote magazine subscriptions in the 1970s.
Key code: A group of letters or numbers (or combination
of letters and numbers), colours 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 lettershop on a commercial laser photocopier. Also called lasering.
Lettershop: A business that addresses, folds, inserts, sorts and applies postage to
direct mail fundraising packages, and delivers them to the post office for mailing.
Lifetime value: The long-term value of a donor or member, such as the total revenue
received during the time a donor or member is active. Useful when calculating how much to
spend to acquire a new donor.
Lift note: Also called a lift letter. A second letter included in a
fundraising package to reiterate the main points of the letter, or to give other
reasons for making a donation. Often signed by a celebrity or person of influence.
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 cleansing: The process of keeping a mailing list accurate and up to
date. Includes removing duplicate records, formatting addresses to postal
standards, and updating addresses of those who move.
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 organizationís list.
List maintenance: The never-ending process of updating and correcting donor records in a house list.
List manager: The organization or individual, often a list broker, that
manages the promotion of a mailing list for rental or exchange.
The individual or organization that owns the right to rent or lend a mailing
List rental: The process of renting a mailing list for a one-time
List sequence: The order in which names and addresses are kept in a
mailing list. Most lists today are kept in postal code (zip code) order. Some
are in carrier route (postal delivery) order.
List test: A mailing sent to a small, random
sampling of a list (perhaps 10,000 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 dupes: Donors, members or subscribers whose names are found on
two or more lists of prospective donors.
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. (See Positive Option, below).
Nixie: A mailing piece returned to the sender by the
post office because of an incorrect or undeliverable name or address.
Nth name: The method of testing the pulling power of a list by selecting
and mailing to a representative sampling of the list. The list owner or broker
selects every 5th name, 20th name or other variable (Nth name) that provides a valid
One-time use: A standard condition of list rental and exchanges. The
names on the list can be mailed only once. No copy of the list may be retained.
Open rate: Number of emails opened by recipients, expressed as a percentage of
total emails sent.
Overline: The headline in a letter, usually placed on a line over the salutation.
Offer: In traditional direct mail, the incentive that you give prospects to motivate
them to respond to your mailing, either by placing an order
or by taking the next step in the sales process.
One-time usage: The stipulation in a list rental agreement that the
advertiser will mail to the names on the list once only. The stipulation in
a list rental agreement that the advertiser will mail to the names on the list once only.
Package: Everything contained in a direct mail fundraising appeal, such as the carrier
envelope, letter, insert, reply device, return envelope and premium.
Package insert: Any promotional piece included in a
product shipment. It may be for refills and replacements
from the same company, or for products and services from
Package test: Test in which two or more direct mail packages are mailed to statistically equivalent
groups of individuals from the same list or lists to determine which package performs best (often measured
in response rate and average gift).
Paid circulation: Distribution of a magazine, newsletter
or other publication to individuals or organizations who
have paid for a subscription. (See Controlled Circulation.)
Pass along: The readership of a newspaper, magazine or direct mail letter other than the addressee.
In publishing, the pass along readership is always higher than the readership.
Peel-off label: A self-adhesive label enclosed in a mailing
package, intended to be removed and attached to an order card.
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.
Piggy back: An offer that accompanies another offer, free of charge.
Pledge card: A printed notice mailed to individuals who pledge to donate to an organization, usually in response to a telephone appeal.
Poly bag: Transparent polyethylene (plastic) bag used instead
of envelopes for mailing.
Positive option: A method of selling products and services
using the same technique as Negative Option (see above) but requiring the
customer to place an order each time.
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.
A direct mail appeal sent to prospective donors or members. Also called an
Purge: To remove duplicates or unwanted names from a
Recency: The latest donation or activity recorded for an individual.
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.
RFM: Recency, Frequency, Monetary Value, a formula used by direct mailers
to calculate the income potential of names on a mailing list.
Renewal mailing: A direct mail fundraising package
mailed to donors or members who have supported the organizationís 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.
Retest: See Back test.
Roll-out: Mailing a package to the remaining portion of a mailing list after having tested
the package on a smaller portion of that list. See Continuation mailing.
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 ďsalting lists.Ē
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 donorís 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.
Split test: A test in which a direct marketer takes two or more samples
from a list, each sample considered to be representative of the entire list, and
mails a different package to each sample to test the effectiveness of each package.
Statement stuffer: A slip of paper, printed on one or both sides, and inserted
into the envelope that contains a customer's bank statement. Also called a bill stuffer.
Swatching: Attaching samples of fabric (swatches) or material to a printed piece.
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
Tap test: The process of tapping the ends and the top and bottom of a stuffed, sealed window envelope to make sure the name and address appear through the window.
Teaser: A phrase, or an image, or a phrase and an image, on a carrier
envelope that arouses curiosity and motivates the recipient to open the
envelope. Also called an envelope teaser.
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.
Throwaway: A promotional piece, usually printed on inexpensive stock, intended for widespread, free distribution to houses, businesses or to passersby.
Tip On: An item, such as a promotional piece or reply card, glued to a printed piece.
Token: A device that involves the reader in some way, often consisting of a perforated
label that the reader removes from a sheet and sticks to a designated place on the order card,
signifying a desire to buy.
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.
Universe: Total number of
individuals that might be included in a mailing list, or all those who meet a
set of specifications.
Upgrade: The process of
persuading donors to increase the size or frequency of their gifts.
Variable-data Printing: A form of on-demand printing in which elements such as text, graphics and images may be changed from one printed piece to the next, without stopping or slowing down the printing process and using information from a database or external file.
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.
Zip count: Number of names in a given mailing list for each Zip Code.
This Direct Mail Glossary is updated weekly with a new definition. Check back soon!