Mar 262012

Fundraisers new to direct mail often ask me about “the rules”.

Do we always need to write 4-page letters?

I’ve heard you should always include a P.S.

What do you think about premiums? Should we make a tote bag?

We have this great program that people love, so I know it will make a good appeal theme, right?

And they are invariably surprised when, instead of the one- or two-word answer they expect, I send them a 300-word mini-essay answer to their simple questions.

Because the simple truth about Direct Mail “rules” is that until you test them on your donors, they’re not “rules” at all.

Yes, I — and any other consultant with a few dozen campaigns under their belt — can make recommendations based on what we’ve learned to be true through mountains of experience. I would say, for example, that for most Acquisition and special appeal mailings, a 4-page letter will probably do better, you should include a P.S., and let’s have some longer conversations about premiums, programs and what you hope to accomplish.

But those of us who have worked with multiple organizations over the years can also probably point to that one client whose campaign results consistently forced us to toss all our hard-won direct mail wisdom out the window.

You have to start somewhere. So start with the generally accepted rules of direct mail creative. But make sure you test them. Test everything. Test tote bags against t-shirts. Test four-page letters against two-pagers. Test photo-filled packages vs. plain-jane packages. Test different themes. Test, test, test!

Find out what YOUR donors respond to, and you’ll have your own set of rules for direct mail.

Mind Your Manners

 Direct Mail, Nonprofit  Comments Off on Mind Your Manners
Mar 162012

Nothing says "Thank You" quite like pie. Acknowledgement letters are nice, too.

Everybody talks about how important acknowledgements are. It seems to be generally understood that if someone is generous enough to give you a donation, the least you can do is thank them.

So why are so many organizations so bad at it?


I can’t tell you how many times a client has said to me, “But it’s so expensive to send a thank you letter for every gift!” Or even better, “But it’s so much work!”


I’m sorry, but I don’t accept that excuse from my 7-year-old, so I’m certainly not going to accept it from an organization I give money to.


In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you can’t afford NOT to send acknowledgements.


An old boss of mine used to preach to all of her clients about the importance of including a reply envelope in acknowledgements, saying, “There’s no better time to get another gift from a donor than when they’re in the ‘rosy glow’ of having just given.”


But even if they don’t give again right away, your thank you letter is a critical tool for future giving.


Done correctly, an acknowledgement does three things:
  1. It thanks a donor for their support.
  2. It tells the donor what that support has accomplished so far.
  3. It tells the donor what their continued support can accomplish in the future.


Many of my current clients also put information about planned giving and sustainer programs into their acknowledgement packages, too. They’re great vehicles for getting the word out about other ways to give to the organization. (Remember the ‘rosy glow’!)


But however you thank them, make sure you do thank your donors. As Mal Warwick says, “If you run a responsive donor-acknowledgement program, you’ll gain a competitive advantage that will pay off in higher renewal rates and greater loyalty.”


And who doesn’t want higher renewal rates and greater loyalty?