When ‘Simple’ Sizzles

I admit it — I’m a direct-mail addict. I have no intention of joining a 12-step program to find a “cure,” since I experience no guilt when my heartbeat quickens as the familiar white, red and blue truck pulls up to my mailbox. My happiest days are when the mail carrier can barely stuff all the mail in my mailbox.

In recent weeks, I have received stationery, note cards, address labels (of course), oversized envelopes … and a plain, white envelope.

This envelope came from a local hospital with whom my husband had a two-night stand earlier in the year. It was metered with nonprofit postage, and the return address was the hospital name and “Office of Philanthropy.” Since we had never donated to it, what could shout “donor acquisition” more loudly?

But, just in case it was a refund for overpaying for aspirin or whatever, I bypassed the recycling bin and gave it to my husband. He opened it, read it — and told me I had to read it, too. For, even to his non-fundraiser’s eyes, it was clear the letter copy was a winner. It began:

“Imagine that you are strolling through (name of town) on a pleasant evening. Suddenly a car comes out of nowhere. The rest is a blur.

“Your spouse calls 911, an ambulance is there in a flash. Sirens blaring, you are rushed to (name of hospital), which has been serving you and your family for generations.

“But this time, you are turned away.”

This package couldn’t have been more simple (although it did include a four-color reply form that did a great job of restating the offer). But good copy worked. It asked me to imagine something that was all too easy to relate to. How many of us haven’t heard the squeal of brakes and realized that an accident had just been avoided? And, it put me in a locale (the local downtown area) I knew well.

It didn’t ask me to imagine that I’d gone days without food while walking in search of water. It didn’t make me feel guilty that I wasn’t doing more to help end (fill in the blank).

Don’t get me wrong — I love colorful envelopes (the better to get opened, my dear). In fact, I would test the hospital letter in a few other envelopes if anyone asked for my opinion.

But “simple” got this potential donor inside the envelope and then grabbed me with letter copy that was irresistibly about “me.” Two other letters received in recent days from local charities apparently forgot that the letter was about me (the potential donor), not the organizations that sent them. One opened the letter by saying, “The XYZ Foundation is kicking off its 2011 Annual Fund Drive in your area, and we are hoping you can offer your help today.”

The second came from a public TV station: “At XXXX, we’re proud to rise to the challenge of providing you with the outstanding programs you expect.” Sorry, but neither of those opening lines made me feel very involved in the problem the charity was addressing. In fact, sounds like they had it all under control …

Let’s face it — fundraising is personal. What I like, you may not. But this time, the plain envelope containing fantastic letter copy grabbed my emotions more than the thick envelope overflowing with premiums and an underwhelming letter.

Sometimes the sizzle is in the simple.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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