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Direct mail: The power of your offer

Why are you writing to me today?

It’s the first question any reader will ask upon receipt of your direct response fundraising piece. Asked another way, What do you want me to do?

Why do so many nonprofits have such a difficult time answering such a reasonable question in a clear, concise, compelling way?

Our guess is that the answer lies in your direct mail offer.

Offer is the rationale for writing — and reading. Offer is why anyone should care what you have to say. Offer is what you want me to do. Even more important, it’s why you want me to do it.

Offer drives packaging (never the other way around). Offer determines tone and word choice. It dictates every element of design.

Offer is the reason to give.  No amount of bells-and-whistles creative will save a weak offer.Yet nonprofit organizations continually drift from this element that so clearly defines fundraising success. “Why,” you ask, “would any organization do such a thing?” Here are three common reasons:

1. Audience intel (or lack thereof) - Know why you're writing. Know who you're writing to. If you don't understand your audience, how will you make your direct mail offer relevant?

2. Navel gazing - As painful as it may be to hear, information concerning your organization is relevant only so far as the impact of the gift from your donor or prospect. Weigh the inclusion of organizational information carefully. Does lifting the hood on history, process or procedure support your case for writing and for giving? Interesting is not enough. All information must have purpose, driving toward a meaningful exchange of that information for a donation.

3. Blendering - Imagine you have the perfect appeal. Grounded in a solid offer, it is relevant, singular, simple, tangible and urgent. You distribute the piece for internal review. Comments from brethren departments are as follows:

  • Marketing: Focusing on one aspect of our outreach does not fully align with our brand standards. You must include all points of our impact. All of the time.
  • Major gifts: This appeal aligns perfectly with a project we're currently trying to fund. In addition to asking for a gift to feed a hungry child today, can you also work in our effort to construct the new building in which that child is fed?
  • Events: Seems like this is a perfect opportunity to announce the run-a-thon we're having this month.

Accommodate these requests, and you’ve placed your appeal into a blender set at HIGH PULSE. That’s not to say comments like these are invalid. We’re all driving toward the common goal of furthering a nonprofit organization’s mission. But just as you wouldn’t load a cannon with an arrow, you’ll want to align your messaging with the appropriate delivery method for the most effective impact.

That leads to the most critical consideration when formulating offer:

Right message, right medium, right audience – Your direct mail offer should fit on the head of a pin. Add excessive or irrelevant information causing donor confusion or pause, and you will likely knock it off its delicate perch. A direct mail appeal, for instance, will accomplish only one thing successfully. If you want it to raise funds, then include information applicable to only one call to action: send a gift.

If, however, you want to use the mail to educate a broader audience on all of the wonderful things you do, then an annual report might be your best choice. Got an event? Go online! It’s more immediate, reaching an audience more inclined to take action over and above giving.

You get the point.

Here’s an example of the power of the offer and how influential and delicate it can be. This test was conducted on the behalf of an international Bible distribution organization. The audience was split. All recipients were proven advocates for distributing Bibles throughout the world, particularly in China.

The offer is the same for both: We need help putting Scripture into the hands of Chinese believers who need it most. What’s interesting is the vehicle by which the product is delivered and how the targeted audiences differ in response.

Behold . . .

Offer #1




Offer #1 focuses on providing Bibles to the general Chinese public. Notice how that one offer ($1 = a Chinese Bible) is clear throughout the entire package with matching visuals and clear urgency in the colors and envelope label.

Now, take a look at Offer #2:

Offer #2




This direct mail offer focuses on providing Christmas gift boxes that contain Bibles and other items specifically for children. The nature of the offer ($10 = one gift box) requires more explanation on delivery. In comparison, it is not as clean as offer #1.Our results showed that offer #1 brought in a 34% higher response rate than offer #2, along with a 31% higher income.

What do you want your donor or prospect to do? Give. What, then, should you do?  Never forget ...

The importance of offer is second only to audience. 

Offer provides relevancy.
Offer provides the rationale for communicating. It's a primary driver of response.

 It's the center of your direct response universe.


Billy Vaudry

Billy Vaudry is an award-winning creative professional with 27 years’ experience in direct-response fundraising and marketing for nonprofits. As Senior Vice President, Creative Services, at RKD Group, he specializes in serving domestic humanitarian organizations, including rescue missions and food banks. Billy's unique combination of critical, business-minded and imaginative thinking has enabled him to lead top performing teams, developing and executing integrated strategies to drive revenue and donor growth for hundreds of nonprofits.

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