Direct Mail Fundraising

Key No. 2: A Powerful  Proposition

After selecting a good, direct mail responsive mailing list, it’s time to commit to the message  to be sent to it.

And there’s a critical point to understand here. People who select direct mail as their medium for giving are proven to use it in a very specific way. Right from the moment they pick their mail up from the doormat to the moment they respond, keep it to read later or throw it away they display a set of common behaviours. Fitting in with these behaviours is critical to success. This pattern will be discussed in more detail later, but a key behaviour is that mail users want immediately to know what the “deal” is, what the letter is all about and what the sender wants. If all this isn’t apparent straight away, their interest very quickly dissipates. It is reckoned that you have about 90 seconds to capture the reader or lose them.

And the most successful way to do this is through a powerful proposition.

Here are a few which have proven very successful:

  • Make a blind man see for just £12
  • Make a crippled child walk within 3 months
  • Save an abandoned foal for just £6
  • Your gift of £6, £8 or £10 will help send doctors and nurses…
  • Send £6, £8 or £10 to help a landmine victim regain mobility

I call this the “proposition/price offer” and it lies right at the heart of successful direct mail fundraising.

It takes a little practice to become proficient in translating everything a charity does, or an aspect of what it does, into one simple proposition. But it can be done regardless of the area of operation a charity is involved in. And not only can it be done, it is crucial to successful fundraising that it is done. It is a core competence of fundraisers to be able to master this.

Why? The reason why a clear proposition is so important is that it links the requested donation to the outcome that donation might achieve. The proposition is the trigger to giving. Whatever visuals, headlines and verbage have gone before it or after it, it is the proposition that crystalises in the donor’s mind the moment when his or her money will make a difference. It also articulates the price the donor needs to pay to make his or her contribution to achieving this difference (more on this below).

You should notice something else about the sample propositions set out above. All but one leave the charity out of the equation. As a general principle, a strong proposition will try to create the strongest possible link between the donor and the beneficiary, leaving it to detailed copy to explain the charity’s precise role as the agency connecting the donor to the outcome. In this scenario the charity is tacitly acknowledged to be the agency through which the donor’s funds are channeled for the benefit of the beneficiary, but the verisimilitude is created that the donor’s funds are routed as directly as possible.

As you can imagine, an appeal by a charity would hardly stir the emotions if it said  “ boost our bank account”. Yet, behind the window dressing and analysed coldly, this is what every charity appeal actually means. In most cases, the donations all go into the charity’s general funds to be used in whichever way the trustees judge is most appropriate in pursuit of the charity’s declared aims.