Getting Your Fundraising Envelope Opened, Part 1

Writing for the fundraising niche is one of the most rewarding gigs in direct-response marketing. It’s a prime example of “doing well while doing good” … a niche where good copywriters can make excellent paydays while advancing causes they believe in.

However, you cannot assume that potential donors will respond to the same things as your prospects in product-oriented markets. This is true even though they might be the same people.

Potential donors respond differently to fundraising appeals than they do to other demands for their money. They still want “benefits,” but they’re the benefits one feels from helping others. Benevolence certainly. But maybe also pride (“I helped build that school.”) Or power (“I can help elect a candidate.”) Or belonging (“I’m part of a special group that understands the need for medical research.”) Or even fear (Global warming is killing the environment.”). Or, most likely, some combination of several different benefits.

Understanding this different perspective is key to your success as a fundraiser. And, as with all direct response efforts, your first challenge is getting your prospect to open your letter. Remember, he’s flooded with mail. Your letter has to compete with promises of improved health, financial riches, and other pleas for money from worthwhile causes.

Your envelope has to hit a special chord that will lift your letter above the pile sitting in his mailbox.

The final decision about which envelope format to use rests with your client. But as the copywriter, you have significant influence over that decision. When designing your package, here are some tested envelope styles and approaches currently working in fundraising.

What Type … and Size … Envelope Works Best?

The answer to this question is “It depends.” As with any DM campaign, what worked 5 or 10 years ago could continue to work for a long time. Or it could fall flat on its face.

According to Fundraising Success Magazine, there are still a lot of plain #10 white envelopes being mailed successfully. They work because they look personal and can be made to look like they came directly from the director or president of the nonprofit organization.

However, since #10 envelopes are like many of the other envelopes that land on your donor’s kitchen table, they can easily get lost in the shuffle. That’s why many nonprofits that used to mail #10s are now going with the slightly larger #11 and #12 envelopes. They’re just big enough to stick out a bit and grab your busy donor’s attention without looking too salesy.

Larger format carriers, such as 9” x 12” envelopes, are not common with nonprofit appeals. Still, some organizations are using them to great advantage. Larger envelopes are more expensive to mail than a #10 or #11, but they can convey a sense of urgency smaller envelopes don’t … and can draw a response that justifies the cost.

A good example is a recent ACLU appeal. It mailed in a large envelope with teaser copy announcing “Petitions enclosed.” The size of the envelope added to the legitimacy of the teaser and to its success.

One format that seldom wins in test mailings is the 6” x 9” envelope. It’s smaller than most of your donor’s other mail, so it’s more easily lost in the pile.

But this doesn’t mean small envelopes can’t be big winners. Covenant House – an organization that provides assistance to homeless street kids – is currently mailing a 4.75” x 6.5” envelope that’s phenomenally successful.

Even though the envelope is small, it has one characteristic that makes it stand out: “faux texture.”

Simulated Texture Adds Real Substance

The Covenant House appeal mails in a beige envelope that looks like textured linen. The linen “threads” are printed on. But it has the distinct look of something more substantial, more important than a standard white envelope.

An increasing number of nonprofits are turning to these faux-textured envelopes as an affordable alternative to make a mailing stand out.

Next week, we’ll cover additional envelope options, including graphics and teaser copy. Meanwhile – as with other DM promotions – you can get a good sense of what’s working in fundraising by looking in your mailbox. If you see similar envelope formats repeatedly, you know they’re what’s working now.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: June 19, 2006

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