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The Art of Direct Mail

January 2007
By: Matt Waters
No matter what we say about "snail mail" and the price of stamps more than tripling since we were kids, the fact remains that a majority of Americans describe receiving mail as "a real pleasure," and 95 percent of us assess and sort our mail daily. There is a fondness for the old, reliable mailbox, even if we could forego the letter carrier's fashion of shorts with black socks.

How can your pregnancy center utilize direct mail effectively? Your effectiveness is related to the creativity brought to your mail pieces. The art or creative process of direct mail is the fun part, and the end goal of the creative process is to raise money.

I want to share with you some of the many ways we go about attempting to accomplish our goal of raising money, step-by-step.


Seriously, direct mail should provoke your donors' interest and create a sense of urgency for them to read your letter and respond promptly.

Without being downright obnoxious, how does a letter scream, "open, read, and donate to me"?

Use gripping art and sharp, urgent colors, such as fire engine red (PMS—Pantone Matching System—199)
Mail your letter in a unique format: tube, Express Pak, etc.
Use an involvement device or technique that lifts response
Employ emotional rhetoric (a client testimony often fits the bill)
Use teaser copy on the outside envelope
Make it easy for the donor to contribute
Mail format (Shape and Size): When people meet someone new, what is the first thing they notice? Appearance! In a very real way, your letter must be dressed up in a three-piece suit, making a great first impression. This may mean it arrives in a 9 X 12 envelope, or maybe your letter arrives in a small box, or a tube, or an "Express Pak" envelope.

When you mail your letter in a tube or Express Pak, it will get noticed. Hopefully it will stand out above the rest of the letters your donors receive that day, and it will be the first letter they go for and read and donate to.

Teaser copy: The second ingredient to add in your fundraising package is "teaser copy." Teaser copy is the sentence fragment printed on the outside envelope. For instance, it might say...

Personal and Confidential
Free Gift Enclosed
Signature Requested
Final Notice
"My intent in every abortion I have ever done is to kill the fetus"
"I do think it is sometimes appropriate to kill a human infant."

Those last two quotes were actually said by abortionists, and they got our envelopes opened, lifting our response. The ultimate purpose of the teaser is getting the donor to open the letter. Caution on teaser copy: don't tell the whole story or give away everything on the envelope, leaving nothing to your donor's imagination. For example, don't say, "Open the enclosed letter and hear Lori tell her story of how she chose life after her ultrasound exam." You've just shared the plot, main character, climax, and outcome in one fell swoop. I'd recommend your teaser say, "Then she told me, 'I have an appointment for my abortion tomorrow'..."

Techniques & involvement devices: Maybe your letter has three pennies attached to the reply piece showing through a window of the envelope. Maybe your envelope has a pencil or plastic baby inserted into it, giving it a lumpy feel and raising your donor's curiosity. Techniques and involvement devices help grab your donor's attention. Remember, your donor's mailbox is full, and I can promise you Time Magazine, The Red Cross, and the Republican National Committee are all very interested in getting your supporter's attention too.

An involvement device can take many forms. The political committees typically use petitions or surveys to involve their donors. Perhaps you can send your donors a pro-life card, asking your donor to sign it so your center can give it to a woman in crisis. A technique need not serve your center's purpose however. The "Lumpy Mail Guy" advocates putting almost anything in an envelope to get your donor's attention. I don't know that I'd recommend that, but you could insert a pencil with your name and address on it. Whatever you do, make reference to it by saying, "I put this plastic replica of a 12-week-old pre-born baby in your letter, because I really needed to get your attention!" Maybe you say, "I have attached three pennies to tell you three things about our center..."

Some techniques that lift response can include the following:

1st class return stamps on the return envelope
Handwriting the address on the envelope the donor receives
Adding "free-miums," such as return address labels, pencils, and calendars to your fundraising letters
Whatever the technique or device, its purpose is to get the donor's attention and get involvement in your letter, directing that person to the reply card, wherein your donor will hopefully make a contribution.

Emotional rhetoric: What is more powerful and emotional than the issue of abortion? This is what we deal with every single day. My wife called me the other day from the side of the road. She had been listening to Concerned Women for America's radio program, which was discussing the issue of fetal pain. She told me about the facial expression that aborted babies have according to sonogram footage taken during the horrible act of abortion. Needless to say she was weeping and reaffirmed my role here at Care Net.

But she was shocked by this information. And did it serve a good purpose for her, a donor? Yes, she is more pro-life now than she was the day before. She is more committed now than the day before. And she is more ready to contribute and volunteer now than the day before.

On the point that we write with emotion, I am reminded of Paul, who did this most famously in his letter to Philemon. Paul told Philemon to forgive his former servant Onesimus who had run away from Philemon. Paul told Philemon to give Onesimus his old job back. Paul reminded Philemon that he first heard the Gospel from him. And Paul, ever so delicately, told Philemon to keep a bed ready for him, as he may stop in unannounced to check on how Philemon was doing. Paul pulled no punches. He used emotion powerfully, and so should we.

Make it easy for a donor to give: To make the contribution easier, your center should be 100 percent pro-choice—in a good way! If the donor wants to use his or her credit cards, take them—all of them. If donors want to leave you a gift of stock, make it happen. If they want to be a monthly EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) donor, set up the program. If they want to save a stamp, tell them how to give online at your Web site or set up a Business Reply Mail account at the post office. If your Web site does not take donations, add that feature to your site. If the donor pledged a monthly $25 contribution to you, make sure the donor has 12 envelopes before they leave the banquet or mail 12 envelopes to them shortly thereafter. Never discourage the donor from contributing. Make it easy!

The take-away: Care Net attempts to employ all of these things—graphics, emotional rhetoric, and involvement devices—because they are tied to truth. Kurt Entsminger, President of Care Net, puts it this way, "All of our techniques must be tied to truth."

Many of you reading this might be thinking, "Matt, I agree with you on this issue, but I cannot employ secular advertising tactics to motivate my donors." Well, I disagree. Abortion is taking 4,600+ lives a day1. My belief is that your center must do whatever it takes, within the law, to wake up a sleeping church, arouse sleeping donors, and end abortion once and for all. We cannot afford to be squeamish while defenseless babies' lives are being ended and their mothers' hearts (and lives, often) are being destroyed. The enemy is powerful, and we should be powerful too.

For those of you who want more information on direct mail or have questions about this article, please don't hesitate to call or e-mail me.

Remember, it's easy for those of us who work in the pregnancy center to lose the vision and the fervor for loving hurting women and saving lives that prompted us to join the work in the first place. The more funds we raise, the more lives we can affect—even save!

1 1.2 million abortions annually, 260 calendar business days = 4,600 abortions a day.

Matt Water is Vice President of Public Education & Development for Care Net. He can be reached at To read more about the advantages of using direct mail with your donors, see "In the Mailbox" in Volume 7, Number 3.

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