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5 Eye-Catching (and Affordable) Direct Mail Techniques Donors Will Want to Open

Production Solutions

*You can also read a version of Cheryl’s commercial direct mail recommendations for nonprofits under the “DM Deconstructed” section in the March 2014 issue of Fundraising Success magazine.

“A passion for paper” is one way to describe my obsession with direct mail (yes, I’ve said it for the record).   And yes, I find it challenging, dare I say, unbearable, to toss any unique piece of mail into the recycle bin because I’m always on the hunt for a nugget of inspiration to pass along to colleagues and co-workers…and who knows if that piece I toss is going to be the one I should have kept?!  Honestly, you should see my sample library…it’s quite impressive!

But what about the PERFORMANCE of these pretty, clever or pretty darn clever mailings?  Out of the hundreds if pieces that cross my desk weekly, it’s nearly impossible to discern which ones performed the best – especially when reviewing mail samples contributed by an industry colleague from their home mailbox.  That’s when you rely on your gut and years of experience to identify techniques and formats that have that je ne sais quoi (translated: that special something that stands out).

This article focuses on how some simple, or complex, features of affordable, attention-grabbing commercial direct mail pieces might be an inspiration to direct mail fundraisers, with the goal of getting donors to open those direct mail envelopes.

1. Texture

Publishers Clearing House (PCH) – The first example is a rather simple format.  The color is used sparingly in this letter-sized envelope, and although the official markings are definitely eye-catching, the real attention getter is the bumpy texture (look closely for the embossed bubble effect).  This special envelope can be machine-inserted, unlike the bubble-padded mailer it mimics. It’s also available as a smaller #10 with a more standard window and with no additional die costs.

When to use this format?  It’s suitable for a special appeal or report, a membership card, early renewal or even a welcome kit.  The ideal print quantity for the bubble embossed texture is 150m+.  Appealing to multiple senses, this envelope will get the attention it deserves!

2. Urgent /Official Mail

In this selection of urgent and official mail, the impact is conveyed through key words and phrases, font choice, and select graphics.  Surprisingly none of the samples incorporate the traditional “urgent” colors of neon yellow and red with hatch mark design.  In fact, it’s the simplicity and spare use of color that makes the designs more impactful.  The bold phrase “DATED MATERIALCONTENTS REQUIRE YOUR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION” and the red-stamped “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS PLEASE REVIEW IMMEDIATELY” are simple, but powerful teasers.

When to use this format?  Emergency appeals, capital campaigns or calls to action that are time sensitive.  If you want to customize your next urgent mailing, try these simple impact techniques that won’t break the bank.

3. Recapture, Renew and Cultivate

The three little words “recapture, renew and cultivate” are more simply said than done and, yet, succinctly describe the focus of the current fundraising “state of the union.”  For many groups, the funnel of newly- acquired direct mail donors has slowed to a trickle for various reasons, be it lack of investment, competition, and/or  lackluster performance.  The focus on retention is huge.  This same focus is evident in “subscription” publications/mail, as more readers consume their content digitally as opposed to print.  The publications continue to mail renewal notices, usually small monarch-sized envelopes but with stand-out teaser copy.  They seldom say:  “Please renew” on the envelope, but rather, “You’re missed,” “We want you back,” or “Thank you – we’re pleased to have you with us!”  This kind of verbiage contains an emotional rather than an intellectual stimulus.

How to use this format?  The following copy example can easily apply to a renewal – “Valued Subscriber Since 2012.” What I found interesting is the incorporation of the word “Valued” to describe the subscriber – that’s special.

4. Make it Easy to Communicate – Not 1, Not 2…but 3 Ways!

Providing the customer with multiple touch points for engagement may be easy to produce, as in this USPS marketing example for Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM).  Providing multiple options for the customer to communicate their preferences is optimal, but it can be difficult to manage and capture the responses if you don’t have the right production partners to support the campaign.  1). A postage paid envelope; 2).  a personalized web page (PURL);  and 3). a QR code will cover all the bases.  This University format takes it a step further and pre-fills the application requesting additional information with the contact’s name and address.  Also provided is a QR code insert as a quick mobile connect to additional alumni success stories.

When to use this format?  This multi-channel format might have some additional (albeit nominal) upfront costs to create the digital aspect of the campaign, but it is one of the most effective ways to capture email addresses, especially if you intend to grow and invest in your online communications in the future.  It’s also a great multi-channel format to showcase to a younger audience, who will likely appreciate it.

5. Check Mark Graphic

A check mark implies inclusiveness and a favorable response.  In the Wells Fargo example, the bold check mark is used to convey “yes,”  “verified” or “completed.”   I’ve seen “presumptive” acquisition formats in which the inserts or benefits listed are pre-checked for your “convenience.”   Try adding a check mark or arrow to emphasize a point.  The ones that look handwritten/hand-drawn are especially noticeable.

When to use this format?  This technique is perfect for subscription or donor renewals on the reply device.  Or why not use it for simply drawing attention to something important in the letter (think: in lieu of a P.S.)?

I hope you were inspired by my selection of commercial mai
l.  If you discover a nugget of inspiration in your mailbox (or if you created one for your organization), I’ll happily take it!  Please email me and tell me what it is. (Sending a photo is even better!)  Maybe your unique mailing will be highlighted in my next DM Deconstructed (in Fundraising Success).