Countdown To The Money, Week 10: Envelope

Updated: Nov 16


(This is post #3 in our countdown to the most lucrative week and day of the year for nonprofit fundraising: The last week of December and December 31). ​

Recently I got a copy of Siegfried Vogle's Handbook of Direct Mail. The book is an out-of-print classic and sells for a premium. Professor Vogle, who passed away in 2014, was the first to exhaustively analyze how people respond to direct mail letters. ​

The premise of Vogle's research is that we respond to a piece of direct mail in the same way that we would respond to a salesman knocking on our door. He says that people ask themselves at least twenty unspoken questions in the same order as the questions they would ask the salesman at their door. ​

These questions help the reader decide if they should open the letter, read it, and respond. At the speed of thought, in a few seconds, the reader's mind asks these twenty questions much quicker than they could be spoken out loud. In the same way we interact with a salesperson at the door, as they talk, the plusses and minuses add up until we invite them in or shut the door. ​

Vogele calls anything that gives a positive answer to any of these questions an amplifier. He calls anything that is confusing, irrelevant, or uninteresting a filter. The reader will likely engage with your letter if it has more amplifiers than filters.

In this post, I want to talk about the first amplifier or filter for your December appeal: The envelope your appeal comes in. Vogel says that:

The envelope is...a cover or messenger bringing news, and...it is the first contact [to] answer readers' questions such as 'Should I bother to read this?', 'Will it interest me?', 'Do I need this?', 'Will it do something for me?'

Send everything you do in an envelope.


Never, never, never send your appeals or newsletters in self-mailers. Many nonprofits attempting to be good stewards will opt to use self-mailers as a cost-efficient and impactful way to get their message to donors. ​

Self-mailers negatively impact engagement. Self-mailers hurt you.

Take it from Directmail.com:

"In over thirty years in the direct mail industry, we've discovered that a letter (more often than not) will perform better – securing more leads, members, subscribers or purchasers than a postcard or self-mailer, even when the increased costs of postage, printing, and mailing are taken into account."

The more personalized your mailing, the more likely its recipient will read it and take action. That's why letter packages are so powerful. ​

Real people send things in envelopes to other real people.

Self-mailers are viewed as "junk mail" and often get thrown out with a glance. By Vogel's definition, self-mailers are a filter negatively impacting engagement. ​

Letters in an envelope are personal.

When you send a self-mailer, you become an organization, a corporation, not a person. Letters in an envelope feel more critical and engage emotions in a way that self-mailers can't.

Retail marketers use self-mailers. Fundraisers use letters in envelopes.

If you want to sell a product, promote a candidate or announce an event, use a self-mailer. We use letters in an envelope for personal messages and to express thoughts and emotions. Your potential donor is giving, not buying.

Self-mailers look expensive whether they are or not.

Donors may question why you would spend so much on something so slick and professional. Always opt away from "slick" (even when you print your newsletters, opt for a less "shiny" finish). ​

Shy away from #10 envelopes.

Ninety-five percent of American business uses a #10 envelope. To differentiate yourself from them, use anything but a #10 envelope. For newsletters, I have fallen in love with the 6X9 envelope. When your envelope is a different size in your donor's mailbox, it is more likely to be noticed.


Dr. Vogel, a pioneer in eye-tracking science, mapped how people look at an envelope. You can guess where they look first:

1. Name and mailing address

A person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language (Dale Carnegie). Your donor's eye goes first to the mailing address with their name. They want to know if this mail is for them or someone else. And misspelling their name starts your donor's journey into this interaction with a negative.

2. Teaser copy

Your donor's eye shifts second to any teaser copy you may have to the left of their name. No teaser copy could work in your favor, teasing the reader to open to find out what this is about.

3. Return address

The eye then moves to the return address in the upper left corner. This helps the reader decide if your mailing is of interest. It is a plus if the return address appears handwritten instead of typeset. For donors who know you, your logo can be a plus. ​

4. Postage

After tracking the first three hotspots, your donor's eye goes to the postage area. People use postage to help them decide on a piece of mail's importance. A pre-printed indicia or metered postage may be the cheapest but can cost you some engagement. First-class stamps catch the eye, and commemorative and multiple stamps add intrigue. If your stamps cause your donor to pause, it's a plus!

​ Before I conclude, I want to show you a letter i received with an added amplifier on the back:


Everything about this envelope screams personal. Of course I engaged with this letter!

David ​

MORE POPULAR POSTS FROM DAVID L OAKS:

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