7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 2)

By: Wayne Gurley

We’ve already discussed the single most critical variable in any direct marketing effort – which is the mailing list.

But what’s the second most important element?

The answer is – the “offer.” In other words, the letter’s “proposition.” From the reader’s standpoint, it‘s “why are you writing to me…what do you want me to do…and what do I get in return for my money?”


In fund-raising, most offers are known as “hard” or “full price” offers. This simply means you are offering the benefits of your organization and the work it does at full price – no discounts or premiums.

Here, the word “price” can be substituted for “gift.” But unlike commercial products or service offers, a fund-raising offer asks a person to send money so that they can do good work helping others.


A lot of people think that fund-raising is simply getting people to part with their money for nothing in return – in other words, no product or service. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Personally, I’ve always believed that “giving is a selfish thing.” That might sound a little odd, but when you stop and think about it, it really isn’t so strange. When someone makes a gift to a philanthropic organization, they are committing a selfish act.

What are they getting in return? At the very least, they get a warm feeling for helping an organization they believe in.

The most important thing to remember when constructing your offer is to communicate clearly what you want the donor to do – including the amount of money you are asking for, how the money will be used, and what benefits (tangible or otherwise) you promise in return for the donor’s gift.


Russ Prince and Karen File wrote a terrific book called “The Seven Faces of Philanthropy” (published by Jossey-Bass). Their research identified seven kinds of motivation for giving:

1. Communitarian (Doing good makes sense, or is good for the community.)
2. Devout (Doing good is God’s will.)
3. Investor (Doing good is good business.)
4. Socialite (Doing good is fun.)
5. Altruist (Doing good feels right.)
6. Repayer (Doing good in return.)
7. Dynast (Doing good is a family tradition.)

Can you think of different types of offers that might be developed for the above motivations? How about…

1. Communitarian – Give to help our community hospital/children’s home/social service agency.
2. Devout – Monthly pledge program to help our mission/ministry.
3. Investor – Charitable gift annuity/charitable remainder trust/gifts of stocks or bonds.
4. Socialite – Buy a table… bring your friends… come to the party!
5. Altruist – Support our organization. It the right thing to do.
6. Repayer – Grateful patients helping other patients/Graduates supporting the scholarship fund to help future worthy students.
7.  Dynast – We’ll name a building for your family.



One of the strongest words in the English language is FREE. Fundraisers often use “Free With” offers like premiums (back-end freebies) or freemiums (front-end freebies) to generate bigger responses.

Address labels, magnets and note pads are common freemiums used in fundraising today. They tend to generate higher responses, but lower average gifts. They also tend to generate more “guilt” gifts. It’s the principle of reciprocity – “you do something nice for me, so I’ll do something nice for you” by sending you a few bucks back as thanks for the address labels or whatever.

Do freemiums generate more responses? Yes. Do they generate committed donors?  They can, but not always. If you use freemiums to generate a new donor, will you need to continue to use them to get them to renew their support? Possibly.

Another example of a “freemium” would be a bookmark or pen. A good example of a premium would be, “Get this book for your gift of $35 or more.”

Pledge Programs

Pledge Programs – to which donors promise to give on a regular basis (typically monthly) – are another kind of offer. Certain benefits and recognition can be attached to the offer to strengthen it.

Benefits and recognition also can be attached to Membership Programs and/or Giving Societies. These kinds of programs allow donors to develop a deeper and stronger relationship with the organization. If structured properly to generate multiple annual gifts, they also can help identify good planned giving prospects.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 1)

By: Wayne Gurley

First in a series of seven…

Can you name the single most critical variable in any direct marketing effort?

If you said the “mailing list,” you’re absolutely correct!

Your list is the single most important element in any direct marketing effort – more important than package style, graphics…even more important than copy.

In fact, you can have the best copy in the world, but if you send it to the wrong person, it won’t work. (Remember the definition of junk mail – “mail that's been sent to the wrong person.”)


For fundraisers, there are basically two kinds of lists (each with subsets) that you can use with varying degrees of success. They include in-house lists and rented names.

1. In-house lists.

In-house names can be of various quality. Obviously, you want to include donors. Then, you may want to include people who have participated in events or signed up for one of your services. Sometimes these work well, and sometimes they don’t.

If you raise funds for a hospital, you can usually make your Grateful Patients work well. The same can be said for members of a 55+ Senior Club, if you have one.

An example of a list that usually doesn’t work is Memorial Donors. Memorial gifts are usually made by people who are more interested in honoring a person rather than supporting your organization. As a result, they typically do not respond well to direct mail solicitations.

Other in-house lists you also may wish to consider include Employees and Vendors. Sometimes these work, and sometimes they don’t. You’ll have to test them to find out.

2. Rented Names

Rented names fall into four categories: Donor Lists, Subscriber Lists, Buyer Lists and Demographic Lists.

Donor Lists are donors to other organizations with a similar affinity to yours. For example, a hospital might rent donors to March of Dimes, Easter Seals or Muscular Dystrophy in their geographic area. And a children’s organization might use a list of donors to other national children’s organizations like UNICEF or Covenant House.

Rented Lists are just that – “rented” for a one-time use only. If you want to use them again, you must pay to rent them again. They can never be purchased. In fact, I strongly recommend that you never use a list that is available for purchase. If you can buy it and own it, it probably isn’t worth very much. And I can virtually guarantee it won’t work well.

Some donor lists are called Compiled Lists. A compiled list has been put together from various sources. For example, we use a list called “Capital Donor Masterfile.” This list is made up of people who have given to health-related causes. It usually works very well.

With compiled lists, you want to determine the “usage” – that is, what organizations are using the list – and not just for testing, but for continuations. A “continuation” is a larger, repeat use of a list, always followed by a successful test. If you see an organization with an affinity to yours using a particular list, then it’s probably a good idea to test it.

And speaking of testing, don’t ever mail a large quantity of names without testing the list first. Test 5,000 or 10,000 names, then read the results.

Subscriber Lists are people who have subscribed to magazines like Time, Newsweek, Southern Living, Prevention Magazine or other publications like newsletters. They are “direct mail responsive” lists and they work very well for fundraising offers.

Buyer Lists are people who have bought things through the mail, usually from catalogs. Sharper Image, Harry and David and Omaha Steaks are examples three lists that often work well for fundraisers.

Demographic Lists are made up of people who live in a certain area or meet certain demographic requirements – like age, income, length of residency or home value. I don’t recommend this type of lists for fundraisers. They tend to be the worst kinds of lists you can rent.

Many organizations believe they can simply rent names of wealthy people in their area and have success. But a demographic list fails two important criteria for direct marketing success:

(1) They have not been shown to be “direct-mail responsive” – in other words, they have not demonstrated a willingness to make a gift, purchase something or subscribe to a magazine through the mail. Some people are simply not direct mail responsive, and therefore aren’t good candidates for a direct mail solicitation.

(2) They have not demonstrated a “philanthropic intent.” Just because someone has money doesn’t mean they are willing to part with it for the benefit of your organization.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.