Direct Mail Fundraising History and growth in the United States

However, in its modern form, direct mail fundraising appeared in the United States only after World War II, when nationwide charities such as the National Easter Seal Society sought ways to broaden their fundraising base.

It was only with the advent in the 1960s of the ZIP Code and, later, the computer that direct mail fundraising began to gain wide use. Before the ZIP code, it was difficult to target appropriate recipients of direct mail fundraising appeals, and before the computer, compiling and maintaining lists of supporters was tedious and costly. During the 1970s, when computers became increasingly affordable, the use of direct mail fundraising spread widely. It quickly became the means by which most Americans learned about and first provided financial support for their charities of choice.

The explosive growth of the nonprofit sector in the United States — quadrupling in the 1980s and doubling again in the 1990s and early 2000s — led to a massive expansion in the use of direct mail to build and sustain large, nationwide donor and membership lists. Today, direct mail fundraising accounts for at least one-fifth of the more than $250 billion contributed annually in the U.S. to the nation's 1.6 million nonprofit organizations