Does your direct mail need a facelift?

Direct mail remains an integral part of any mature direct marketing program—and is especially essential for nonprofit fundraising programs. But finding success in the mail is more difficult than ever. Many, if not all, nonprofits have seen acquisition response rates fall from the historic highs of the 1980s and 1990s.  And absent a headline-grabbing issue, special appeals can also be a tremendous challenge. 

With budgets and timelines tighter than ever, the question remains, “What to do?” If timing doesn’t allow for a complete overhaul, or if you think the bones of your package are still strong and you just need a “tinker,” you could consider some plastic surgery in an effort to revitalize your format. 

Basic facelift

The envelope is your package’s “face.” Remember, as the adage goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. And that happens in just seconds as your package’s recipient opens their mailbox and reviews their mail. So take a careful look at your carrier envelope, particularly your teasers. Are they engaging? Is the overall envelope design eye-catching? Would you want to open this envelope? Show the envelope to a friend—preferably someone who’s not a direct mail professional. What do they think?

Tummy tuck

OK, now that you’ve looked at your package’s “face,” take a deeper look into the package. Sometimes letters get rewritten by committee and lose their punch. Has that happened? The font size can sometimes be the tip-off: When the font size gets squeezed it may mean that too many cooks in the kitchen added their ingredients. Scale things back; cut away whatever detracts from the emotional core of the package, the reason for giving. And, of course, make sure all facts are as up-to-date as possible.  Nothing causes a yawn like a “fact” from 1997.

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Your reply document is one of your package’s most important “mouthpieces” and it can make or break your package success. Take a look at the ask string. Should it be more prominent? And is the ask formula just right? Could you be using a symbolic ask amount to stimulate gifts?

The reply document also needs a bit of visual appeal; photos or illustrations, when carefully placed, can add a spark. And don’t forget those third-party endorsements!

Of course, the opposite could also be true. If the reply document is too busy, the ask can get lost in the mix. Your intent should be as clear as possible: You want the donor to check off that YES box and send in a generous contribution.

Hair transplant

Sometimes inserts or techniques from one package translate really well into another. If a lot of work went into that really cool new member benefits insert from a test package, pick it up and move it over to your fatiguing format (test it, of course). And if you’ve had success with address labels or other freemiums, those are worth a test, too.

So, take a closer look at the potential causes for any declines in response rates, and if find yourself in need of a little direct marketing plastic surgery, don’t be afraid to give it a chance.

About the Author: Pete Carter is senior vice president at Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey

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