Components: What should you include in your fundraising package?

The three essentials – the outer envelope, the reply form and the return envelope.

1. Every fundraising package must have one: THE OUTER ENVELOPE

Your outer envelope is critical. No matter how heart-warming your story or compelling your letter or noble your cause, it is all to no avail if the envelope doesn’t get opened. That decision – to open or not to open – is made in just 2 or 3 seconds. And sadly, most direct mail envelopes lose that decision. They get tossed without even being opened. And that includes fundraising envelopes.

Of course if you are mailing to existing donors, this is not the case. Your donors will open just about anything you send them. But when you are doing an acquisition mailing, your envelope is the vital first step in getting a new donor. In fact, your envelope strategy is so important we’ll soon be devoting a newsletter entirely to it.

The two workhorse outers for fundraising are the #10 (9 1/2 x 4 1/8) and the #8 (6 1/2  x 3  5/8) window envelopes. Sometimes, if the situation calls for it, another approach, such as a 6 x 9, a 9 x 12 or invitation type of envelope can be effective.

The big question is, should your envelope have teaser copy on it? This is one of those situations that can be answered only through testing. The only thing you can assume with reasonable certainty is that a plain envelope will probably work better than an envelope with “lame” teaser copy. Simply, no teaser is usually better than a lousy teaser.

2. You have to offer them an easy way to give you their gift: the REPLY FORM

It is critical to personalize the reply form so the person merely has to fill in their credit card number or enclose a check. This is far more important than personalizing the letter because it makes responding so much easier.

If you want to personalize both the letter and the reply form, you can it do it economically by using 8 ½  x 14 paper and creating a perfed 8 ½ x 3 reply form at the bottom of the letter. Letter and reply form can then be personalized and printed at the same time. Just be sure to design it so that the address shows through your outer envelope window.

3. You have to give them an easy way to send their gift: the BRE and CRE

You want to make it easy to respond so a reply envelope should always be included. It’s worth testing whether you should use a BRE with postage paid or a CRE where the responder has to use their own stamp. If the response with the CRE is close to that with the BRE, it will likely pay to use the CRE, considering you have to pay first-class postage plus a handling fee for each envelope you receive back.

Two extra steps you can take with the reply envelope are . . .

Print on the front of the BRE or CRE “To the attention of . . ” or “Please forward to . .” [the person who signed the letter]. It adds a touch of immediacy and urgency.

On the BRE, the words “Your stamp will save us money” under the postage-paid indicia, will motivate some responders to apply their own stamp.

Two common non-essentials: the BROCHURE and LIFT LETTER

When do you need a brochure? Certainly not all the time. Tests have shown that a brochure can actually depress response because it can take readership away from the letter. A person will spend only so much time with a direct mail package. If too much time is spent with a brochure, that takes time away from the letter. And since the letter is the strongest sales tool, response can fall. In fundraising, the old adage “the brochure tells, the letter sells” is particularly true. The key to response is to appeal to emotion, and the letter format does that better than a brochure.

An effective brochure could be a report printed on inexpensive paper showing how funds raised are spent. Or if your cause has been written about in the media, articles reprinted on newsprint add big impact and cost little. Your brochure solution may be as simple as adding a photocopied article into the package with a handwritten blurb at the top.

There are some situations where a brochure may be necessary. For example . . .

  • If you have to teach the reader
  • If you have too much necessary information for a letter
  • If there are photos or visuals that will help your case

Bottom line – you should probably test to see if you need it.

And finally, the other common component is the lift letter. Unlike the brochure, the lift letter can be used to appeal to emotion and it usually works to lift response. My experience has been that a well-crafted lift letter with an effective message and signed by the right person (different from the person who signed the mail letter) can add valuable impact and increase response far beyond the cost. In fact, it’s one of the few things you can confidently do in this direct mail business without testing. It’s almost a sure thing.


11 more design tips for maximum response

Last time we looked at how to design your fundraising letter for maximum response. This time we’ll look at a few other aspects of design in the fundraising package that will help you achieve maximum response. For example…

1. If you have an element in your package with a photo or illustration, always use a caption with it. The visual will attract attention so you should take advantage of that by having a caption that relates to the photo or illustration plus builds the case for a donation. Simply, a photo or illustration without a caption is an opportunity lost.

2. Do not make the mistake of running a headline or even worse, running body copy across photos or illustrations. It reduces the effectiveness of the visual and makes the copy hard to read.  Usually best to have the headline above the visual with a caption below.

3. And speaking of a lost opportunity for copy, most mailers don’t use the back of the envelope. Think about it. In order to open the envelope, you have to turn it over to get under the flap, so you spend a fair bit of time on the back. It’s a good place to write some extra copy.

4. Here’s a small tip that will help get the letter read in its entirety. It’s a tactic that takes a bit of effort but should help get the reader to turn to page two. What you do is, ensure that the first page of your letter ends in the middle of a sentence and if possible in the middle of an important thought. This forces the person to turn the page to find out how the sentence ends. One problem is that the “board” or others who must approve the letter will tell you that you shouldn’t do this. But they are the same people who tell you not to begin a sentence with “and” or “but”. And they must be reminded that they are not professional copywriters.

5. Usually we want the reader to read the letter first because it is the most powerful selling tool in the package. One way to help that to happen is to repeat the envelope copy at the top of the letter. That way, especially if the letter is nested in the envelope properly, the first thing the reader sees when they open the envelope is something familiar. They go to it and read from there as a continuation of the process that enticed them to open the envelope.

6. Here’s something that is not a “must” but is almost sure to increase response. If your budget can afford an involvement device, like a sticker, use it. It almost invariably will increase response. But it does add cost so you have to test to be sure that the increase in response pays for the increased cost.

7. Here is something to avoid – setting type in reverse (white type on a black or coloured background) when there is more than just a sentence or two. More than that and reading is too difficult. Readers hate copy set in reverse but unfortunately, designers love it and continue to use it.

8. And another thing to avoid – not having enough contrast between the type and the background. Setting blue type on a 20% blue screen background may look nice but it won’t get read. You need to have lots of contrast and best of course is black type on a white background.

9. Do not put a period at the end of a headline, even if it is a sentence. The purpose of a headline is to attract attention and motivate the reader to read more. A period is a subconscious message that says “the end” so the reader is getting a mixed message. Granted this is a very small thing but all the small things can add up to make a difference.

10. Avoid numerous type-styles and faces within your package. Some people are still smitten with the ability to use various faces and then reverse, bold, italicize or outline each one of them. Remember, the best typesetting is never noticed by the reader.

11. And finally, avoid using too small a type face in the letter or in the brochure. This is absolutely critical when your audience is older. And if you absolutely must use a small typeface because of space limitations, use a sans serif face – it is easier to read when small.

The biggest difference between fundraising and other direct mail

In the last newsletter we suggested that the basics of direct mail are pretty much the same for the fundraising sector as for other sectors. But there is one huge difference that makes writing fundraising copy more difficult than other copy. In a word, that difference is benefits.

Whatever you’re selling, whatever media you’re using, your ability to persuade someone to respond or to buy is based on your ability to show them how they will benefit from the transaction. People will read your copy and respond because of a very simple principle called WIIFM – “what’s in it for me”. In other words, how do I benefit?

People don’t buy products or services. They buy the benefits the products or services bring them. A benefit is how the product will make me better off, how it will improve my life. Make me money, make me healthy, save me time, save me energy, make me smarter, thinner, stronger, taller, prettier, more handsome, etc.

Benefits result from product features. For example: A mutual fund offers a 20% annual return. That’s a feature. As a result, I’ll have more money to spend. That’s a benefit. A tire is guaranteed never to blow out. That’s a feature. I can enjoy peace-of-mind when I drive and never worry about changing a tire. These are benefits. A golf jacket is waterproof, Gore-Tex lined and weighs only 5 ounces. These are features. It will keep me dry in the rain, with Gore-Tex I won’t sweat and it’s light enough to carry all the time. These are benefits.

So how do we identify the features and benefits in the fundraising sector?

Let’s start with the features. There is no perfect analogy but it would seem in a fundraising situation, the features would be the “good things” that the fundraising organization does with the money they raise. Saving animals. Helping children. Finding a cure for a disease. Simply stated, the features are the ways the organization will make a difference. The benefits that the donor will enjoy will generally flow from these features. So part of the task of the fundraiser/copywriter is to ensure that these features are made clear and prominent in the copy.

We don’t usually talk of the benefits of giving but rather the motivations for giving. Identifying the benefits or motivations of giving is difficult because they are based on individual perceptions and feelings. The benefits of a tire or jacket described above are universal. That is not the case in fundraising. People donate to any specific cause for a variety of reasons and in most cases, stem from personal experiences. Some of them are:

  • A desire to make a difference. This could be based on altruism or compassion or both.
  • They care about a specific issue and want to take a stand. This could be idealistic and/or could be politically motivated.
  • They may want to keep up to date on a specific issue or cause and donating may accomplish that.
  • Some people may give because donations are tax deductible.
  • Many people give for spiritual or religious reasons. There could be a sense of obligation here.

But the overriding motivation for giving is that it feels good to give and that good feeling is instantaneous. And in this busy stressful world we live in opportunities to feel good about one self may be rare. So the challenge for the copywriter is to somehow capitalize on this. To remind the reader of the wonderful sense of joy they will experience by putting that cheque in the envelope.

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