Direct Mail Fundraising

Key No. 4: Eye catching design.

Design has a tough job to do in direct mail.  It is the vehicle for conveying the proposition/price offer in the most effective way. At its best, it does this with speed and impact. At its worst, a poor design will get in the way of quick and direct communication of the proposition/price offer and cause the reader’s attention to break down.

They key requirement here is speed. The proposition/price offer needs to be communicated with both speed and directness. The reader needs to get to grips with the whole ‘deal’ in a matter of seconds.

Picture it yourself, from your own experience. You pick up the post this evening and mentally sort it into 3 piles – mail you are pleased to receive, mail you know you must read and the rest. (You’ll be interested to know that charity mail is usually placed in the second category by most recipients, by the way.) After checking through the ‘pleased to receive’ mail, you come to the ‘must read’ pile – bank letters, statements, bills etc. Amongst it is your charity mail. You flick an eye across the front and back of the envelopes to get clues as to who has sent the mailings. You turn the envelope over so the back face is now on top and you slide your finger (or envelope cutter), tearing the flap. You pull out the contents and turn it over. You glance at the address and salutation, the signature and PS and any messages that grab your attention. While doing this your attitude is “I’m going to throw this away unless it says something very relevant to me right now”. Then it hits you: “Please come to the rescue of an abandoned orphan foal……for just £6”. You’ve never owned a horse in your life. Don’t much like them actually. They bite, kick and eat, not much more. But you hate the thought of cruelty to such a defenceless animal. Such a cute, defenceless animal – judging by the carefully positioned photo of a 6 month old foal. And the price seems very reasonable – just £6 – especially if it means saving an animal’s life. You’re hooked. You read on. You send a donation.

How did this all happen? Of course the proposition/price offer was strong. But it was the positioning of three key components in relation to one another that caught you just as you were about to throw the mailing into the rubbish bin. These were your name, the proposition/price offer and the photo. You had the whole ‘deal’ in your hand and it was conveyed very quickly – fast enough to catch you just as the mailing was on its way to direct mail heaven.

And it was the design that played a crucial, if unobtrusive, part in the successful outcome.

Key requirements of good direct mail design

  • Carry the price/proposition offer to the reader with speed and directness.
  •  Convey credibility – make the reader believe
  •  Enable the reader to visualize the moment when his or her donation could make a crucial difference
  •  Make it easy for the reader to reply.

When executing direct mail fundraising design, the following rules also generally hold true:

  •  Two colours are better than four
  • Black and white photos are better than colour
  • Always have a letter, regardless of the other elements
  • Testimonials, letters of support etc ( usually called ‘lift letters’ or ‘publishers notes’) are often worth their place
  • Smaller envelopes often command more attention than larger ones
  • If you put a message on the envelope, make sure it is relevant and repeated or continued inside
  • Don’t try to save money by including your latest newsletter or other material. It will kill the results
  • Make the reply piece totally self sufficient and easy to fill in and send off.
  • Use serif typefaces not sans unless you are a design guru. Your readers are over 50 and mostly wear glasses
  • Avoid using headings reversed out of a solid background
  • If you have a really great idea that you are itching to use – keep it to yourself. As Drayton Bird, one of the greats of direct mail, often advised: “murder your darlings”. Its more effective to do the basics well than attempt something daring and do it badly.