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In the Mailbox

October 2006
By: Matt Waters
There are two things my grandparents would look for every single day—the morning paper and the afternoon mail. (Well, three, if you included Walter Cronkite in the evening.)

These events gave them a sense of normalcy and regularity. If the morning paper didn't arrive by 7:30 a.m., Grandpa had to make the call. And he was never happy about it. After the call he would sit in the living room looking out the window, waiting until the paper arrived. This seemingly small thing would completely throw off his day.

Far more certain than the morning newspaper was the mail delivery. This was a job left to men, not junior high kids. The mail is delivered, as the saying goes, rain or shine. The mail is constant, reliable, and even anticipated. Why? Because for so many people, mail is one of the daily bright spots they have to look forward to.

While it is still true that most of your donor base probably comprises seniors 50 and over, as they have the most disposable income and may have less daily activity which they look forward to, it isn't just grandparents anticipating and reading their mail each day.

In fact, according to the United States Postal Service (USPS) statistics from March 20051, almost everyone interacts with and responds to their mail:

95 percent of American households sort and assess their postal mail on a daily basis.
98 percent bring their mail in the house the day it is delivered.
67 percent felt the mail is more personal than the Internet.
56 percent said receiving mail is a "real pleasure."
Another more recent study commissioned by the USPS found that "although Gen X (born between 1967 and 1976) and Gen Y (born between 1978 and 1994) use electronic media more than their parents, it doesn't mean they use hard copy less."2

The same study also revealed that Gen X and Y rate 75 percent of the mail they receive each day as being of "immediate value."

More importantly may be this fact: Consumers, according to the USPS, spend more than 30 minutes a day reading their mail. This means that your letter will be looked at and some portion of it probably will be read.

In light of the facts, I have two questions for you: (1) Is your pregnancy center utilizing direct mail? (2) Is your direct mail effective? Or put another way, are you receiving gifts from your supporters through your mail program? (If you answered no, Care Net can help you.)

This is where direct mail gets interesting. Direct mail allows you to:

Find the response rate
Find the average gift
Read supporter comments
Find the gross and net dollars raised
Each of these statistical facts is extremely hard, if not impossible, to find using other forms of fundraising media such as the Internet, newspaper, radio, or even telemarketing. You see, when you mail a letter to your supporters, you will receive feedback in the form of a check made payable to your pregnancy center.

With telemarketing, Internet, and newspaper or magazine ads, your center relies upon the donor making a move toward you. The monkey is on his or her back to respond. None of these media give your donor a response device. In both cases, the donor must go to your web page or make a phone call in order to make a contribution. Your newspaper ad may have a coupon, but the donor must clip the coupon, fill out the coupon, and then find an envelope and write your pregnancy center address on it, and then mail you the letter.

With direct mail the response is made easy. Donors have the letter. They also have your reply device with their name already printed on it in most cases, and a return envelope with your pregnancy center name and address printed on it. All the donors need is their checkbook or credit card, which you count on them having if they are surfing the net, listening to a radio-a-thon, etc.

Another big plus to utilizing direct mail is the cost. Compared to any other form of media, the cost of direct mail is exceptionally low. The average cost for a letter, including printing and postage, is generally no more than $0.75 each (if you are mailing 2,000 letters or so). The average cost for a 30-second radio spot is roughly $120. Your center can mail 160 letters for the cost of one 30-second radio spot. But with direct mail, your center can expect a 3-5 percent response, call it 4 percent or 6 donors, at an average gift of $50 and realize $300 gross revenue or $180 net. Radio will never touch that. Direct mail looks even better when compared to spot ads in newspapers or magazines and tremendously good when compared to the cost of television infomercials.

So, direct mail is, in a very real way, a science. Yet, it also intentionally runs from some formulas.

Why Direct Mail Breaks the Rules
Fundraising letters have one end in mind—raise money. Each and every Care Net letter is designed to meet response standards, which is a fancy way of saying, "This Letter Must Raise Money." And, yes, this standard overrides traditional punctuation and grammatical principles.

For example, we are always very concerned in direct response about carrying the reader's eye forward from phrase to phrase, from thought to thought, because of the reader's strong inclination to "scan" fundraising packages rather than read them carefully.

Consequently, we subscribe to quite a complex science of alternative punctuation, unorthodox capitalization, and sentence fragmentation—all of which increase response to a package, but sometimes drives executive directors, board chairs and volunteers batty!

For example, we make significant use of ellipses (...) and dashes (-) and frequently use capital letters after these items, even though a capital letter is not technically called for.

This has the surprisingly strong effect of holding the reader's eye—and generally does not reflect too negatively on your reputation for editorial precision, since most readers don't process their mail through a mental filter of "the rules."

This "science" of direct response also accounts for short paragraphs, increased use of commas, indented paragraphs, centered or otherwise realigned text, mid-sentence page breaks, use of hyphens where they might otherwise be omitted (like re-aligned instead of realigned), starting sentences with bridge words like And, Or, But, an ellipsis or dash—and a number of other oddities.

So, then, please bear with us—as we break up paragraphs into bite-sizes with ellipses ... and dashes—and underlining

and odd margins

and Strange Caps and sentence fragments and even perhaps the occasional ALL CAPS OUTBURST!

Letter-style packages should be produced to look like letters. Type, don't typeset. Do not justify the right margin; too stuffy.
Use 10-pitch (10 characters per inch), preferably Courier, as we have done. Elite or 12-pitch type (12 characters per inch) is 20% less readable—and this will cut down on response.
Rest assured that we construct letter packages with great care and precision for the sake of maximum response, even if we don't always observe traditional punctuation and grammar.

Just as Grandpa's newspaper had large, catchy headlines and eye-capturing photography, there is an art to the science of direct mail. You have the wonderful anticipation of the "real pleasure" of receiving the next At the Center in your reliable mailbox. That issue will discuss the scientific art of direct mail.

1. EU Services, News & Insights, Fall 2005.
2. Direct Mag, "USPS:Young Consumers Like Direct Mail," by Brian Quinton, 10/1/05.

Matthew J. Water is Vice President of Public Education & Development for Care Net. He can be reached at

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