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Six Secrets of Direct Mail

By Shana Davidson
Published on Monday, October 21, 2013

If you are reading this article, you have probably attended a few seminars about direct mail and you likely have a good sense of how to do it. But there are a few secrets to really good direct mail. Many are almost invisible to the untrained eye. But using these tactics will likely improve your results overall – and more than you expect.

First, let’s review a few direct-mail broad strokes.

Write to only one person. Think of someone you know personally and write to him or her. This person should be about 70. They should be well informed. They may not understand every provision of, say, Obamacare, but they should know, generally, of the danger it poses to our country.

Stick to this easy formula: problem, solution and opportunity. Your letter should outline the problem you want to solve, spell out your solution, and invite the donor to play a significant role in the plan.

Giving away money feels fantastic. Do you give away money? If not, you should.  Doing so will help you come to know deep in your own soul how good it feels to give away money.  You may give $5 and someone else might give $5 million but the “good” you feel is the same. Get in touch with that feeling and you will be a better fundraiser.  

Now, let’s move to the six secrets of successful direct mail.

Use the word “you” a lot. Have you noticed how I have done that here? It helps you build a bit of relationship between you and the reader. You can edit sentences to include “you” very easily.  For example, “Increasing taxes will kill our already fragile economy.” becomes “You and I both know increasing taxes will kill our already fragile economy.”  

Most donors are going to skim your letter. This is why we use short paragraphs and short sentences and underline certain phrases. When you are done writing your letter, go back and read only the underlined words. You should be able to get the gist of the letter by reading only the underlined bits. 

Your carrier envelope matters more than you think. Donors have busy lives and they get a large stack of mail every day. And, I am sorry to say, no one is sitting at home waiting for your letter.  So make sure they don’t miss it!  Use a unique envelope size or color, or add the name or photo of your impressive signer, or add a line or two of copy that will entice them to open the envelope.

Most donors don’t read your package in a logical order. Once they open the envelope, they will look to see who signed the letter, they will read the postscript, they will read your reply form, and then they will go back to page one. Once you get them back to page one, you have only split seconds to keep them. So your first few lines must be engaging. Almost shocking. Once you’ve got them to page one, you do not want to lose them.  

Never end a paragraph at the end of a page. This is one simple way to keep someone reading, they have to keep turning from one page to the next. It is a tiny change, but it can make a difference.

Most letters can withstand only two or three rounds of edits. After that, they start to fall apart. Thus, limit the number of people editing your letter to two or three (plus a proofreader) and only give them each one pass at it. This can be difficult to manage but, again, it is usually worth it. Remember, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Direct mail can be the same way.

Stick with the above guidelines and secrets and your organization will benefit. Ultimately, that’s good for liberty.  

Shana Davidson is a senior associate with ClearWord Communications Group, Inc. 
Write her at


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