Jessie-Lee Wallace

Jessie-Lee Wallace

Fundraiser. Blue sky thinker. Whole hearted. Coffee drinker. Committed to charities that make our world better.

A Direct Mail Writing Primer

March 20, 2017

Have you ever had your direct mail copy hijacked by your board, volunteers, or communications department?

Are you new to fundraising, and not sure how to approach writing your direct mail appeals?

Are you not entirely clear on what direct response approaches are considered to be tested and true?

Have you ever had a signatory dislike the style of an appeal letter they were to sign?

Do you often get questions about your direct response program from non-fundraising senior staff within your organization?

Do you find yourself having to explain the quirks of direct mail on an ongoing basis to your charity’s stakeholders?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this post is for you!

Many of these situations arise out of a general lack of knowledge around what are commonly accepted best practices for direct mail appeals. Direct mail is not dead. But, it is often badly misunderstood.

It is a hybrid of art, marketing, science, and philanthropy. At the end of the day, we all want to raise money for our charities and their work because it truly makes our lives and our world better. I would hazard a guess that if you are reading this, you also feel the same. However, most importantly, direct mail is about story-telling to real, live people.

Direct mail is still one of the best and most consistent ways for a charity to raise money, even though its demise has been forecasted for years! This fundraising vehicle is not going anywhere, despite some charities belief to the contrary, and the increasing positive focus on integrated, multi-channel marketing.

Why then does direct mail get such a bad rap? Jeff Brooks, a well-respected fundraising copy-writer recently said, “Fundraising that works is emotional. It’s simplistic, blatant, corny, and soupy.” Perhaps then, direct mail gets picked on because it is so very misunderstood? Here are some traits of effective direct mail copy (backed by research and results!);

Sometimes, direct mail is criticized for its lack of grammatical brilliance or its usage of over-used terms. To avoid some of these pitfalls, click here.

When writing any copy, it is very important to keep in mind who the actual target audience is for direct mail. In the book, Iceberg Philanthropy written by my colleagues Fraser, Jose, and Ruth, talk about the typical direct mail donor who they lovingly called Jaqueline, a member of the ‘civic’ generation. From our recent experience working with clients, the older end of the ‘baby boomers’ are also now part of whom we consider prime direct mail audience. We need to always remember to write for her.

Tom Ahern, one of my fundraising heroes, once said… “ donors have in abundance their own personal values, interests, beliefs, connections, experiences, upbringing, lost loves, secret passions, regrets, fears, angers, hopes and built-in empathy; unless you’re a psychopath, empathy is part of human programming. Rather than educate donors about your work, take them on a journey.”

I can tell you, and research and experts like Tom, show I am not alone on this one – that donors would much rather read a piece of direct mail that delights, moves, and includes.  If donors are engaged, they will support your work.

Moreover, if you would like to learn more about the ‘why’ of persuasive writing, my colleague Fraser runs down the importance of choosing a good signatory, a clear call to action and other important elements to consider for your next appeal.

Happy writing!

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