30 tips for a successful direct mail letter

Are you working on a direct mail campaign but unsure how to start your letter? Read these 30 tips about creating an effective letter for your direct mail campaign.

These tips were taken from the white paper “99 Tips for More Donations.” This white paper is based on our extensive research of fundraising campaigns. Read these tips and apply them right away in your own fundraising campaign!

1. Create a sense of urgency

People are more likely to donate to someone in an emergency than for on-going support. “Why are you sending me this letter today?” Can you answer this question?

2. Be specific

Talk about one single project. Tell one single story. And make that story compelling. The more specifically you can describe what you need the donation for, the faster donors will be inspired to give. What difference will my 15 euros make to someone else?

3. Use emotion

People give based on emotion. You have to touch your donor’s heart by telling a compelling story about real people. That won’t work with formal or businesslike writing, statistics or big numbers.

4. Involve your reader

Write about your donor. Write about how his or her donation will help real people. Help your donor to solve a problem.

5. Always use a letter

Ad agency Ogilvy, the well-known advertising gurus, found that the letter is the most important part of the mailing that generates a response. A brochure appeals to the intellect. The letter appeals to the emotions.

6. Make the letter read like a letter

A letter is the sender’s personal story sent to the reader. It doesn’t use difficult terms or commercial language. Write the same way you talk. Be personal, emotional, intimate and honest.

7. Use the voice of a single narrator

Use “I” and “my,” instead of “we” and “our.”

8. De brief draait om je donateur

Tip: count how many times you use “you” in your letter. Next count how many times you use “we,” “us,” “our organization” and “I” in your letter. Is the focus on your donor?

9. Talk about people, not statistics

People give based on emotion. As soon as numbers or difficult terms are brought into play, the rational half of the brain becomes activated. And response rate drops.
“People give to people to help people.” (General fundraising wisdom)

10. Tell a story

People love stories. The good news: as fundraiser you have the best stories to tell.

11. Start your letter with a strong and concise opening sentence

Put the first sentence on a separate line. See it as an “ice breaker” like when you meet someone for the first time. When you first meet someone you don’t start with a whole flood of words either.

12. Ask for a donation at multiple points in the letter

People give because they’ve been asked. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. People scan the letter, so if you ask at multiple points in the letter you have a bigger chance of people reading it. At the beginning, in the middle and at the end.

13. Ask questions

That way you involve the reader in your story. “Did you know that a child becomes seriously ill with malaria every minute?”

14. Think of some reader questions

Make a list with possible questions the reader of your letter might have and answer these questions in your letter. Questions such as: “Who’s it from?,” “Is it for me?,” “Why are you writing to me?,” “Why should I respond?,” “Will my money get to the right people?,” “What difference will my donation make?”

15. Use a cliffhanger

A cliffhanger means breaking off the last sentence on the first page at an exciting point. This compels the reader to keep reading: “Thanks to your support, Jawi will have a chance to a good…”

16. Use multiple pages

How long should a letter be? The eternal question. The answer: as long as it needs to be. But in general it seems that, especially for a prospect, a longer letter wins out over a shorter letter.

17. Use a different signer

Try writing the letter from a different perspective than the director. Use a volunteer, a mother, a spouse.

18. Use a header

People always read the header. Is your header about the donor?

19. Use a P.S.

Like the header, people always read the P.S. Tell the reader something new in the P.S., repeat the offer, try out a deadline. Be personal. P.S. Always use a P.S.

20. Give the reader a good deal

People like a good deal, even in fundraising. Show them that their 15 euros will not only buy school supplies, but also a future, a new life.

21. Use the seasons

Make your letters even more personal by wishing you donor a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. Look back in January; look ahead in January.

22. Use important dates

World AIDS Day, World Refugee Day, World Animal Day, World Parkinson’s Day. Piggyback on the news.

23. Use other voices

Quote donors in your mailing as testimonial. Tell the reader how many people have already donated to the campaign.

24. Make the letter look like a letter

A letter should look like a personal story from one person to another person. Excessive use of layout, images, colors and frames makes it impersonal, like a brochure.

25. Ugly works

A mailing has to catch the attention, to surprise. An “ugly” mailing does that better than a highly stylized, nice-looking letter in the company house style.

26. Use a lift note

This is an extra letter that “lifts” (increases) the reader’s response, hence the name. It’s often in a different format than the regular letter. It usually contains an additional call to donate from a person other than the writer of the letter. For example, someone in the field, a mother or a donor.

27. Use a serif font (with horizontal strokes)

Check out serif fonts in books and newspapers. They use a letter with a serif because it is easier to read. For example: Times is a serif font, and Arial is sans serif. The text in this book is also a serif font.

28. Make the font big enough to read

Seniors are the primary readers of fundraising letters. Be sure your text is easy to read. Better to have two pages in 12 point than squishing everything onto one page in 9 point.

29. Pay attention to the looking stage and the reading stage

People won’t be reading your letter from A to Z. In the first instance, they will scan the letter, email or landing page. This is the looking stage. It only lasts a few seconds. Only after that will the reader decide if he or she is going to continue reading. Does your letter look attractive to read?

30. Use a post-it note

It’s an attention grabber and an ideal way to squeeze in one more personal message. Stick it in the area of the payment details, for example.

Tips for more donations

We wrote the book “99 Tips for More Donations” for all fundraisers in the Netherlands. It contains useful tips that you can immediately put to practice.

We wrote this practical handbook based on our more than 25 years experience in fundraising. We explain which techniques influence a positive response in a clear and readable way.

We’ve sent out a lot of direct mailings over the years, which has
taught us a lot. We’ve learned which techniques improve the response to a greater or lesser degree. We’ve put together a number of these techniques for you in the 99 tips – plus 10 extra! – for direct mail, email and landing pages. Tips you can apply right away upon reading. We hope they will help you in your day-to-day work and will increase the response rate in your next fundraising campaign.

99 Tips for More Donations

The book is a practical handbook for every fundraiser. Download the book and start using the tips today!

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