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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Competent on purpose What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO PART II
Tom Ahern

July, 2014

Want to make more money, thanks to your insanely great donor communications? Here is my short list of surefire "secrets for success".....part TWO. { Scroll to the bottom to see what part ONE covered. }



Size doesn't matter. Quality does. 


Why DO professionally-written four-page appeal letters bring in more new donors than shorter letters?


(1) Is it about the page count?


(2) Or is it about the quality of the writing? 


If you guessed #2, give yourself a gold star.


Four pages of dull writing will not bring in droves of new donors. While four pages of great writing can open the flood gates.


So ... time for some honest self-appraisal: How IS the writing in your appeals?






Don't know?


If you do your direct mail in-house, have you at least read a good book about creating direct mail? (Here's one, for both print and digital.) Or taken a hand-holding webinar? (Here's one, for both print and digital.



Assume nothing about direct mail. Even though we all receive tons of it, only serious professionals actually know how it works.


I went to a meeting of the Direct Marketing Association once. It was like wandering into open mic night at an astrophysicists' bar. All they talked was math. Ridiculously arcane math, not balance-your-checkbook math. Most recipients have no clue how ultra-sophisticated successful direct mail is.


And you're always learning how to do better.


Want to see evolution in real time? Watch direct mail professionals at work. Just today at lunch (cold green gazpacho and the grilled cheese sandwich [with fontinaand manchego, house-made fig spread, roasted red onions, apricot, and walnuts, on toasted fig bread]), I learned of yet another incredible direct mail guru, Eugene M. Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising


I ate lunch with Nancy Schwartz (no relation to Eugene). She was in RI, for a week by the water; she'd spent the morning strolling her alma mater, Brown.


Her husband, Sean, a Manhattan-based direct mail professional, told me Breakthrough Advertising was his bible. That afternoon I ordered an out-of-print copy. Eugene Schwartz will now join my short shelf of direct mail gurus: Mal WarwickJoseph SugarmanJohn CaplesSiegfried VögeleDavid Ogilvy.


You're always learning. Because there's always FAR more money to be made. 



Board chairs and executive directors are particularly susceptible to delusions of competence when it comes to direct mail appeals. 


Successful direct mail appeals differ from anything else your organization has ever written or will write.


Direct mail appeals are NOT AT ALL LIKE ... 


... a grant proposal (pish) 

... an annual report (tosh)

... a strategic plan (heaven forfend) 

... a brochure (ugh! never) 

... a memo "from the desk of" (puh-leazzzze) 


Direct mail is a confoundedly counter-intuitive medium ... one that is vilely and unmercifully cruel to the untrained.


Professional direct mail looks easy. "My child could write that." But it's devilishly hard to master ... and turn a handsome buck at. Few do. [BTW: If you're curious what mastery looks like, visit the Copyblogger.]

What IS a direct mail appeal --- finally and basically?

It's a conversation between two well-meaning people about an issue they agree on.


Direct mail is by far the most tested English-language communications medium on the face of the planet.


Yet what works in direct mail also makes uninformed people squirm. Even ill.


As expert Jeff Brooks attests, "Ugly works. Tacky works. Corny, embarrassing, and messy all work. In print, or in digital." He's speaking from decades of in-the-trenches experience. 


Your direct mail checklist:


[ check? ] The letter is conversational (ZERO jargon).

[ check? ] The letter makes a strong offer early.

[ check? ] The letter can be skimmed in seconds.

[ check? ] The letter profoundly thanks past donors.

[ check? ] The letter is about how great DONORS are ... and NOT about how great the organization is. [99% of  appeals fail this critical test] 



Covered in Part 1 ...

  • Donor-centricity
  • Understand "tribe"
  • "How much jargon did I kill today?"
  • Measure retention

Read PART I here...

Visit for more.


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