1 easy way to raise more money in direct mail

You have to get it opened!Want to improve your direct mail fundraising? Here’s one easy way. I should say in fairness, this is easy in concept but not easy to do.

Ready? Here goes:

The best way to improve your direct mail is to get your envelope opened.

I can see your eye roll now. “Well, duh, of course if the envelope isn’t opened by the donor, then they won’t give,” you’re thinking. “That’s not exactly rocket science.”

You’re right, it’s not rocket science, but it is one of the most overlooked components of great direct mail strategy.

Part of our work is doing fundraising assessments and giving second opinions for nonprofits that want to improve their income. Those are always great fun and wonderfully satisfying to see how our recommendations can quickly improve fundraising results.

When we review direct mail, one mistake I see over and over is bad outer envelopes.

And that’s a fatal mistake.

And sorta doesn’t make sense, right? If the donor doesn’t open the envelope, the odds are high that they won’t give.

Think about your process. Do you spend as much time, energy and focus on the envelope as you do on the letter? You should. If you believe donors won’t give without opening it, you must focus intently on how to get the envelope opened. Right?

So, how do you get the donor “inside” your envelope?

Here are some ideas to think about:

Put the donor on the envelope. More than their name and address, tell the donor why they should care about what’s inside.

Use the word “you” on the envelope. Speak directly to the recipient. It’s OK, you wrote them the letter, you can talk to them on the envelope, too.

Tell the reader “why” on the envelope. Why is this letter important (don’t tell them it is important, demonstrate that it is important)? Why does the donor make a difference? Why do they want to open the letter?

Create interest and intrigue. I don’t mean mystery or trickery. Interest. Incite the reader’s curiosity. This one is powerful and difficult to master. If you confuse the reader, you’ll go in the trash. If you make me curious, you’re winning.

Put more on the envelope than addresses and logos. Yep. That means putting something on the envelope to engage the donor. A teaser (the words), art work, photos . . .

Change the size and look of the envelope. Mailboxes are crowded. How can you stand out? It still must look like an envelope you sent, but what else can you change to grab the reader’s attention? What if you tried a bigger envelope? Or smaller? Or in color?

Test what you do on the envelope. You must test constantly. And remember that a test isn’t just deciding to try something. Testing requires a “control” and good thinking about who receives the “control” and the “test.” Be sure you know how to do “modern” test and control before you try this at home.

And yes, more often than not, we recommend art, photos or copy on the envelope. Not 100% of the time, but mostly. We test and determine what works best. You should, too.

So what about you? What do you think? What’s your best idea for getting your envelope opened? I love hearing what you think.

And if you have 20 seconds to spare (disclaimer: ok it may be up to a minute depending how fast you type) and haven’t signed up for our newsletter yet, do it now. It’s free, easy to scan and the next one will talk about building audience and relationships. You can sign up here.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Steve Thomas)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

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