What can you learn by reading other nonprofits’ mail? During the last two months of 2017, I received 136 appeal letters from 72 different nonprofit organizations. I read them all (so you don’t have to!) And I learned quite a bit about what you can do to get more supporters to open your mail, read it, and donate. Today: the envelope.
Why Pay Attention to the Envelope?
To quote expert copywriter Alan Sharpe, “Your envelope serves two functions and two alone:
- Deliver your appeal to your donor
- Persuade your donor to open and read your letter.”
It doesn’t matter how well you write the letter, or what a compelling story you include, or how the photo tugs at the heartstrings, or even how personal you make your appeal if the donor never sees it.
What if your beautiful letter goes straight to the recycling bin, unopened? That would be such a shame! And if your donor is getting 136 appeal letters in a two-month period like I did, that is what is going to happen–unless you do something to make your envelope leap out of the pile.
What Makes for a Good Envelope?
17 of the 72 organizations that asked me for money in the last two months did not use the envelope to win my interest at all. They printed their return address on the upper left-hand corner, so I could tell who was sending me the letter. Apparently, they thought that was enough. Other nonprofits–their competition–did better.
28 of the 72 organizations actively bid for my attention.
- Some included a logo or a tag line in their return address, to remind me who they were and why I should care.
- Some used an envelope of an unusual size or color. Yes, that can work! When the Special Olympics increased its format from a 6-inch by 4-inch package to a 7.25-inch by 5.25-inch package, its response rate jumped nearly 10 percent, Bryan Terpstra of direct response fundraising agency RobbinsKersten Direct said.
- Some printed a generic message like “You can make the difference!” on the envelope. (And I give them more credit than the ones who printed “Year-end appeal enclosed.” Why would I, the donor, care about that?)
27 of the 72 nonprofits went the extra mile to make sure the donor had to open the mail. Besides logos, tag lines, envelope color and size, they also used:
- Attention-grabbing photos
- Messages that conveyed urgency
- Personal appeals
On the envelope you see in the photo, CISPES used a mix of these techniques. “We’ve missed you!” makes me feel they’ve noticed me personally. I am much more likely to open that envelope than the one that says “Give today” (or the one that says nothing at all).
What to Do First
Once you get started, you can think of many creative ways to signal to your donor, “You’ve got to read this!” Alan Sharpe lists a baker’s dozen of them, from using both sides of the envelope to promising a benefit to the donor.
Let’s be real, however. Most nonprofit organizations are small, with limited budgets to spend (even though we know you have to spend money to make money). You are not going to do everything that would entice your donor all at once, in your next mailing. What changes should you make first?
I would agree with Gail Perry that these three steps will help you raise more money, all by themselves:
- Make it stand out (use a size of envelope you haven’t used before, or try a different colour of envelope).
- Use a first class stamp (instead of bulk postage).
- Hand address the envelope.
Yes, all these things take time, or money, or both. “Mal Warwick. If you want to succeed, plan on spending the time and money to get a better result.,” says fundraising guru
Because your appeal letter is too important to end up in the recycling bin.
This is the first of a series about improving your nonprofit’s fundraising appeal letters that will appear on Communicate! throughout the next two months. Next up: the greeting, or salutation.
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