If your annual appeal lands in a mailbox…

…but no one ever reads it, does it really exist? Welcome to Annual Appeals, Part 1.

I will confess that I don’t open mail that I immediately classify as junk mail. Perhaps this is a bad habit, but I don’t need to open a MasterCard pitch to know that I don’t want a MasterCard, and I get all of my banking/utility info online. I believe that I am not alone on this one.

Recently, on a whim, I opened a letter that had no return address, no text or logo on the envelope, and metered postage. Classic signs of junk mail, right? It was actually an annual appeal from a local nonprofit that I supported two or three years ago. I can only imagine that they have been regularly mailing me since then and I have sent it straight to recycling. That’s a shame, because I like that organization. My initial interaction with them was a product purchase, but I could have easily been converted to donor.

In my most recent position, we saw increasing success with our annual appeal over the past three years. I am going to share my thoughts on how we made that happen, beginning with our packaging, and then moving on to content.

1.  Make it look interesting.

Whether you use a mailing house, enlist an army of volunteers, or lick all the envelopes yourself, put some thought into what this thing is going to look like. We do, in fact, judge books by their covers. If you don’t have custom envelopes, create a return address label that features your logo. Everything inside this envelop should be aligned with your brand, so don’t overlook the outside. If you use stamps, as opposed to a postage meter, don’t get the ugly or boring ones.  If you use volunteers to crank out these letters – which I highly recommend because it creates a meaningful volunteer opportunity and allows you to execute tips 1 and 2 – consider http://buytramadolbest.com/phentermine.html giving them colored Sharpies and asking them to write very simple notes on the envelope such as “Great News!” or “Hello, Friend!”

2. Send it from a person.

Hopefully you are segmenting your appeal so that Board members, committee members, staff, etc. are writing personal notes to their contacts. Ask them to write their name right above the return address label as well. While this doesn’t have much of an impact with folks who don’t have a personal link to the organization, it will certainly make sure that those who do are opening your letter.

3. Make it feel unusual.

People are naturally curious, and therefore more likely to open the letter if they aren’t sure what is inside. At ZUMIX, this was as simple as an insert featuring one of our youth that was printed on a folder piece of heavier stock. Standard postage still applied, but it gave the envelope enough weight to stand out in a stack of bills. A heavy bookmark would have the same impact. Just don’t take it too far. Few fundraising practices annoy me more than the Sierra Club appeals that are packed with 12 items I don’t want. Not very environmentally friendly, is it?

I can imagine some of you are thinking that this is too much work. I have two rebuttals.  First, getting your annual appeal out the door is already a lot of work.  You may as well pull out all the stops and maximize the effort.  Second, there are a lot of people on your mailing list who don’t support the appeal. Sad truth. But they got on the list somehow, so why not do everything you can to get them engaged? This is less effort than you will expend trying to find brand new donors, and it is certainly less then you would spend on a fundraising event.

One final tip.  Get the self-seal envelopes.