It takes money to make money.
Easy to say, not always easy to do. But there’s one way where spending a bit more money yields immediate and often significant return:
Create a bigger, better direct mail pack for your top donors.
You spend more, you get more.
By your top donors, I don’t mean only your “major donors” — the ones you cultivate through personal contact. I mean your top 20% or so donors. Your mid-value (and higher) donors.
If you take a strong direct mail pack and remove the need to pinch pennies on its cost, you can really improve response. Here’s the trick: It doesn’t work with all donors. Bigger, better packs increase response across all donor segments, but the increased cost may not be made up for by the increased response.
But the investment will likely be worth it among your higher donors.
I’m not encouraging you to just throw money at your direct mail. Like everything else in fundraising, there are better — and worse — ways of doing it. So here are some proven things you can do to invest in a strong direct mail pack for your top donors:
Special Delivery Envelope
These pre-printed, special postal rate envelopes come with an expensive postage rate (the US version starts at US$7.70). You have no creative control over these off-the-shelf envelopes, but they will get your recipients’ attention!
Here’s a US Postal Service Priority Mail envelope:
Other attention-grabbing envelopes
If you use your own envelope, one of the best ways to make it stand out is to use unusual stock: textured, color, etc. A larger envelope (say 9 x 12) or an unusually small envelope can also increase response. This is usually better than a cool line or two on the outside.
Using unusual stock for the envelope is the best investment, but making your letter stand out with paper that’s not white or with a texture is also a good choice.
A longer letter is one of the most dependable go-to ways to increase response. Make your letter to these upper donors six, eight, ten pages, or more. (I’m suggesting even numbers because I’ve found there’s no measurable advantage to making your letter on front sides only.)
The longest successful direct mail letter I’ve written was 16 pages! And… it was for an environmental organization!
Big response form
Separate, full-page response forms rather than small tear-off coupons are a must. It’s easy to find, easy to fill out, and gives space for more options and communication. Great response forms are like an appeal within an appeal!
In every country I’ve tested, using a full sheet instead of the standard coupon style almost always improves response. This includes the USA, Ireland, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand…
The only countries this may not apply to are those where pre-printed post office giro forms are required. However… a full sheet form for monthly giving can still be used.
Stamps on the return envelope
Live stamps affixed to the return envelope are a great investment for upper donors. Best impact: multiple stamps of random denominations that add up to first-class postage. I’ve worked with some super-smart fundraisers who’ve gone even further and included one of those expensive $7+ Express Post envelopes as the return envelope!
It may come as a surprise that as long as each piece you add to your pack stays on the focus of the offer and the action you want the donor to take, it’s the more the better. Here are some relatively easy ideas:
- Map. Maps of anything at all have real power to improve response. Anything from a world map showing where the work is, to a much closer map of the work, to a floor plan. I’ve seen a diagram of a human heart in a powerful DM pack. These are usually easy to produce too!
- A second appeal from a different signer, typically on smaller paper. (Or a print-out of an email).
- Photos of the people donors will help.
- Artwork from the kids if your beneficiaries are children.
- Handwritten notes from beneficiaries.
- “Souvenirs” — pieces from the field or the project that act as “evidence” for donors. Things like samples of things used in the program. Examples include meal tickets, MUAC (a small tape used to measure malnutrition) and guide to checking for breast cancer.
- Memo/email from the field.
- Newspaper article cut out, or screengrab from a news website (ask permission if it is the full article).
- Diary entries from beneficiary or helper. The best I ever saw here was a copy of a genuine kid’s hospital ‘scrap book’ diary that staff and family helped complete.
- Shopping lists
Brainstorm with the team, and reuse lifts when it makes sense. You want LOTS of lifts (at least 3, preferably 5 or 6 but even 12 in big packs).
Oh – one last thing on lifts – please don’t refer to them in your letter. Only refer to the response form in your copy. Not the lifts.
“I’ve enclosed a map of the area to show…” bad ☹
“Please, grab a pen, complete the enclosed form and …” good ☺
Here’s a great, record-breaking example using many of the ideas above. It has five lifts, a long letter, an amazing full-size envelope, full-page response coupon.
What not to add
The one-piece I’ve never seen improve response: a standard promotional brochure. Stay away! Make sure you send lifts that enhance the story.
But most of these things are a great way to increase revenue from your mid-value and upper donors. Think of them as investments, not just expenses.
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