Creating a Direct Mail Letter that Sticks

Posted by on Dec 10, 2013 in Fundraising | One Comment

Photo courtesy of Salar Hassani

Fundraising trends change rapidly but one piece continues to remain useful every year: the direct mail letter.

What might seem an archaic practice, if used the right way, can be a powerful tool for your end-of-year campaign. We know online giving during the last three months of the year accounts for nearly 40% of all online giving for the year – 22% in December alone – making your end-of-year letter a crucial fundraising piece.

Here are a few tips for writing a direct mail letter that will capture and engage your donors.

Start with the P.S.
Your whole message can be summed up in one sentence. Although the P.S. goes at the end, it should be the first thing you write when drafting the direct mail letter. Tell the reader what his or her donation will do. Tell them why you need their donation now and what this gift means to those receiving aid.

Why put this in the P.S.? Because people read it.

Actually, 90% of people who open a direct mail letter read the P.S. Not only will they read it, many recipients will read it first as they turn the letter over to see whom it’s from, before diving in to the body of a letter. Our writers can often spend as much time on the P.S. statement as the rest of the letter combined. It’s that important.

Here are some examples to help get started:

  • P.S. Your donation to ______ helps children in Uganda receive life-saving medical treatment they desperately need.
  • P.S. A gift of $100 to ______ means a family in our community will have food and shelter for the next two years.
  • P.S. Your gift to ______ will help a student go to college and face the myriad of challenges that come with higher education.

Hook them in one sentence
Your opening statement should be personal and catchy enough to pull the reader in. Ask yourself what would catch your attention. Will this statement make your letter stand out from a hundred other nonprofit direct mail letters? And if you have the means, personalization is the best way to catch your readers’ attention.

A few examples:

  • Sarah, thank you! Do you know how much you’ve done!
  • Frank, a family in our community needs some help.
  • Susie, listen to this story. It’s the best we’ve heard all year.

Tell a story that will resonate
Stories work. They put a face to your organization. More importantly, a story will allow the potential donor to see exactly whom their money is helping.

In many cases it’s best to focus on one individual or one family and show how their life was directly affected by your organization. Make it a narrative, be as illustrative as possible in telling their story, where they were before your cause stepped in, how exactly you helped them and where they are now. Data won’t be necessary as a well-illustrated story is much more effective than statistics.

Statistics can be useful when they’re true. But stats lack the ability to generate emotion like a compelling story. Emotions are key in fundraising, as opposed to data, which is just work. Though stats can add credibility to your copy, you don’t need much to make your case. Emphasize the “face” of your organization.

Tell them what you do
What makes you relevant? This paragraph is for giving your organization’s elevator pitch. In a few sentences, tell how your organization is different from every other organization and why it is really making a difference in the community.

If you have some good statistics, this is where they go. But make your stats stand out by putting them in an infographic or chart.

Why and why now
Here is your conclusion, where you leave your readers with a sense of purpose and urgency. You’ve hooked them and told a story so they believe your organization does what it says. But why should they donate now?

Relay a specific, immediate need and how a certain amount of money can alleviate that need. For example, “We have five children in our village that are ready to attend school next year. Your gift of $200 ensures one of these kids can have the education they deserve.”

Other Helpful Tips

  • Timing is important when sending your end-of-year letter. Make sure your direct letter hits mailboxes shortly after Thanksgiving and before mid-December. It’s a break in the holiday madness and a time when households plan their year-end giving. Follow up your direct mail letter with an email shortly after, and then send one last brief email after Christmas, right before the new year.
  • Include photography of real people. Your readers can spot stock photos, and they’ll be turned off. Use real photos of the people described in the story or photos taken at an event. Either way, real is better.
  • Always on a first-name basis. Address your reader like you’re engaging them in a one-on-one conversation. When you tell the story, use the individual’s first name. I’m much more likely to connect with “Jessica” than I am “Miss Johnson”.
  • Make the font larger, we recommend font size 13-14, to reach older donors and ensure the content can be easily read.

Want more on how to step up your direct mail campaigns? Contact us anytime. Or share your success stories in the comments!

  • http://directmailingcenter.com/ Elizabeth Crane

    Great tips for direct mail letters. Variable imaging and image personalization along with personalizing information in letters has really kept direct mail in the forefront of marketing strategies. I totally agree about stock images too. I’ve seen some of the same people in too many different images.

    P.S. Derrick, your articles are always appreciated :)