What Makes A Successful Direct Mail Reply Coupon

October 5, 2016

The business reply coupon (BRC) is that little (or sometimes half- or even or full-page) charitable donation slip that a generous donor sends back with their hard-earned cash to your organization to make a gift.

It exists simply for the donor to return their gift to you in the most elegant way possible.

Your BRC needs to be designed with that single function in mind. Make it easy for your donors to give.

When I am opening up my mail from many charities, I often find this particular piece is given the least amount of consideration, compared to other parts of a direct mail appeal. Interestingly enough, besides a compelling story, it could be the most important element once you’ve actually gotten a donor to open up your envelope.

Always remember that the charity itself is just the conduit to the cause.

Whenever you are writing copy or laying out the design of a BRC, please remember that it needs to be crystal clear what you are asking a donor to do – to give an impactful gift to advance healthcare, eradicate poverty, or protect the environment.

So in the donor’s mind, they are giving much more to the cause, less so to your particular charity. Make sure that the impact a donor will have is apparent right in the ‘yes’ line (that’s the offer on the very top of the coupon).

Don’t let the design elements or branding get in the way of the gift.

What I often see is that there are so many design elements or other offers included on the BRC, it could confuse a supporter who actually wants to give. Sometimes the simplest BRC’s with black ink and lots of white space really are the best.

Different colour inks or reversed out text or text on a coloured background, as well as any font smaller than 12 pt. (or really 13!) will ensure the majority of direct mail donors can’t read your coupon easily. If they can’t read it, or if it’s too overwhelming, they won’t give!

Ask for what you need now, and wait for the rest.

What we ultimately don’t want is a potential donor to decide simply to do nothing, because there are just too many options presented and fields to fill out.

We have learned a lot about how people actually make decisions when presented with multiple options. There is even a field of study called choice architecture that public policy makers have actively employed for many years, to get people to decide to do what is in their best interest.

Now, how does this help us if we want to get a donor to send us back a donation (or to donate on their mobile device or computer?) Research has shown that when people are presented with more than two options, their ability to choose starts to fail – so they often do nothing. It is called reducing choice overload.

Ask for less.

What do you mean less? I mean ask for fewer actions for your donor to have to do. Give a single gift or give a monthly gift. Perfect. Check! That was one choice. Return this paper BRC or give online. Check! Choice two.

I am going to propose something to you right now; only include the information you absolutely need for the gift to be given, including legal statements, and the fields you need to keep your database up to date. Everything else can be included sometimes, but not every time.

Let me give you a few examples:

Sometimes, you could include an invitation to a tour, or ask if your supporters have considered a gift in their Will.

Sometimes you could include a push for your e-newsletter or lottery, or gala, or walk.

Sometimes you could ask their donor wishes when it comes to how many mailings or pieces of correspondence they wish to receive and how.

Ideally, once a year, a donor wishes survey gets sent to your active donors to gather this type of intel. This approach can work really well as part of a January renewal mailer. If you decide to try it, let me know how it goes!

Please consider some of these points as we go into the busiest time of the calendar year for almost all charities – and probably for yours as well! Well over 50% of all charitable giving happens between October and January. This year, make sure you make it as easy as possible for your donors to give – by asking for them to do less!

Other ‘Dos’ to consider…

Make sure your web address is front and centre. Many donors enjoy receiving and reading direct mail appeals offline but choose to give online.

Test different formats: don’t assume that a perforated tear-away is the best way to go. Sometimes a different format might work better. Test it.

If you can, always laser your BRC’s with as much donor information as possible.

If you ask for demographic information, ensure you are recording it in an appropriate place in your database, so you can retrieve it later for strategic use.


This post was written by Jessie-Lee Wallace, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire.

2 thoughts on “What Makes A Successful Direct Mail Reply Coupon

  1. Dear friends at Good Works,
    I haven’t done DM for a while and need to send out an appeal for the small charity I’m now at.
    I have been searching for best practises RE how to build suggested donation amounts [for both OTG and monthly] personalized to each donor on their brc.
    If you have any advice RE how to build this puppy, (is it based on last gift?), I’d love to hear it!
    with thanks,
    Jayne
    Toronto Wildlife Centre

    PS: website is old and crotchetty, don’t look yet! 😉

    1. Hi Jayne,

      Thanks so much for getting in touch! You’re right, suggested donation amounts usually yield better results when based on a donor’s last gift. Is your goal to have your donor renew or upgrade? If renew, keep the first ask same as last gift. A typical upgrade gift string might look something like this:

      Where X = last gift (round X up to the nearest $5):
      □ $X x 1.25 □ $X x 1.5 □ $X x 2 □ Other $____

      If you have any other questions, you can email info@goodworksco.ca and we’d be happy to help you out with your program!

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