8 reasons your last direct mail appeal didn't work (Part 6)

By Wayne Gurley
President & Creative Director

6. You asked for an inappropriate amount of money.

If there is such a thing as a 100% “truism” in direct marketing, it’s this…

The more money you ask for, the lower your rate of response will be. I’ve tested this many times, and it always ends up the same: If you ask for more than the prospect or donor thinks is appropriate, instead of sending something less than what you’ve asked, they simply do nothing.

(For another excellent take on this subject, read Jeff Brook’s blog by clicking here: “Because we need it is not a fundraising strategy”.)

In many cases, a person will give you a gift that’s a lot smaller than what they’re capable of giving. They do this because they’re not that committed to your organization – at least not yet – and they want to see how they feel about you after they make a gift.  Or as Jeff suggests, your donors may not think you’ve given them enough of a reason to send a larger amount.

First time donors often use their first gift as an “audition.” They will send a smaller amount just to see how you’re going to treat them. If you pass this test, they may send you a second gift. But if you fail, you may lose them as a donor forever.

Thanking your donor via a letter and phone call (if at all possible) is an EXTREMELY important first step in the cultivation of a new donor.  It’s also one of the best ways to avoid high attrition rates.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
8 reasons your last direct mail appeal didn't work (Part 5)

By Wayne Gurley
President & Creative Director

5. Your outside envelope left no mystery as to what was inside.

If your outside envelope “billboards” or “telegraphs” what’s inside your package, your donors and prospects may decide to trash it even before they open it.

That’s why it’s always best to leave a little “mystery” about what you’re sending.

Your logo without a picture or teaser on the front is probably the best way to craft an outside envelope. Why? Because if you put a lot of stuff on the envelope that leaves nothing to the imagination, then the decision as to whether or not to take a look inside can be made before it’s even opened.

If you know how to “tease” with copy and art, then by all means, proceed. But most people are woefully inadequate at this task. They usually say too much, and as a result, response can be negatively affected.

When they first see your package, you want them to think, “Hmmm…I wonder what this is about?” Your #1 objective is to get people to OPEN your envelope.

That’s half the battle of being successful with direct mail. If you can get a person to open it, then there’s a chance they’ll read your letter, understand your message AND send a gift. But that will never happen if they trash it first.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
8 reasons your last direct mail appeal didn't work (Part 4)

By Wayne Gurley
President & Creative Director

4. Your graphics were very colorful, creative and vibrant, but they distracted your audience from making a gift.

Anything that distracts a donor or prospect from making a gift is to be avoided at all costs.

Yes, pictures can be used successfully if used judiciously. But too many pictures, or too many things to look at and/or read can distract your donors and prospects from figuring out just what it is you want them to do – which is to send a gift.

People have a “timer” in their heads, and it’s set for just a few seconds. When they first see your package, they don’t even know how much time they have before it goes off (it’s longer for some and shorter for others).

But when it does go off, that’s when your envelope and its contents go into the trash. If your readers can’t quickly and easily figure out what you want them to do – or if you make it too difficult or complicated for them to focus on your main objective – they won’t take the time to figure it out. They’ll just move on to the next thing on their mental “to do” list.

Do you really think your package is so important your donors will give it unlimited time? If so, think about what YOU might do under similar circumstances with lots of pieces of mail to go through (and a ticking timer ready to go off in your head.)

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
8 reasons your last direct mail appeal didn't work (Part 3)

By Wayne Gurley
President & Creative Director

3. You wrote about something your audience cared about, but you bored them to tears

Sure, you can have an exciting and motivating message. But then you can write it in such a way that makes your audience yawn and want to throw it in the trash can. For example…

  • You can include a lot of statistics, which are deadly in direct mail.
  • You can write using the institutional “we,” which comes across as cold and impersonal.
  • You can brag about what your organization does or has done, instead of bragging about what the donor has done to help you achieve your goals.
  • You can use big words, long sentences and long paragraphs.
  • You can write at a college reading level, instead of a 6th-grade reading level.
  • You can try to change the way your donors think, instead of meeting them where they already are.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
8 reasons your last direct mail appeal didn't work (Part 2)

By Wayne Gurley
President & Creative Director

2.  You wrote about something your audience didn’t care about.

Many times an organization will pick a copy theme THEY think is important for their organization to talk about.

However, it may not be something their donors care much about.

To be successful, direct mail appeals must be “donor-centric.” The copy theme needs to be something that will resonate with donors and motivate them to give.

Remember: It’s all about your donor and what THEY can do to change lives and help you achieve your mission, not about your organization or what you is important.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wayne GurleyComment
8 reasons your last direct mail appeal didn't work (Part 1)

By Wayne Gurley
President & Creative Director

1.  You mailed to the wrong audience.

Your mailing list is the single most important element for success in any direct mail appeal. A letter that might have worked gangbusters for some other organization may fail miserably for yours.

At the risk of sounding obvious, the best audience for a direct mail appeal are your active donors. Next best is lapsed donors (those who haven’t given in at least a year).

Keep in mind that the further away in time from a donor’s last gift you get, the worse your response will be. With most of our clients, we can’t go much further than five years from the date of a donor’s last gift.

Ideally, you’re going to want to acquire new donors while you’re also going to the effort to prepare a direct mail appeal. So your prospects should be more than just “suspects.”

A good prospect list will include people who are the correct age for fundraising, and either have more than a casual relationship with your organization, or match up closely with your existing donor base (as in the case of an affinity-oriented rented list). Hopefully, they also will be philanthropically inclined and direct mail responsive.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

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

By: Wayne Gurley

The timing of your mailing can make a big difference between a successful effort and one that lays a big goose egg. In fundraising, here are a few things to keep in mind…


Are some months better than others to mail? Yes, but knowing which months to mail isn’t as much of a challenge as it used to be.

Most people believe that the best times to mail are in the fall and the spring. In fact, if you look at a graph of direct mail volume, it looks a lot like a “roller coaster,” going up in the spring (March, April and May), down during the summer (June, July and August), and back up for a big finish in the fall (September, October, November and December).

But is this really true?


For years, direct mail volume was dictated by when people were working or going to school and when they were taking vacations. Also, for much of the 20th century, America was locked into a “seasonal” or “agricultural” economy, which dictated patterns of crop growth and harvest.

This slowly has been changing for the past 20-30 years. But suffice it to say that one of the big reasons children did not go to school in the summer was that they were out in the fields helping bring in crops. This often took all summer and, in some cases extended into the fall. As an economic necessity, children could not attend school during the summer months.


Another reason for school being out during the summer – no air conditioning! The advent of air conditioning, particularly in the south, changed the mindset that children couldn’t attend school during the summer. Today, a number of school systems have switched to year-round school schedules, which may not be popular but certainly will serve to further change the dynamic of “off” summer months.

Even though we now have more of a service economy than agricultural, the same psychological mindset is still in effect – work or go to school during the fall, winter and spring, and vacation during the hot summer months.


The main reasons to be in the mail during the fall months are the two “feel-good” holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas – and the year-end “tax brick wall” of December 31.

Will recent changes in tax laws regarding the deductibility of charitable gifts change this?  It's hard to tell and only time will tell.

But if you can wrap your appeal around one or both of these holidays, you can still probably take advantage of the inherent psychological need of an individual to “share” his or her blessings with others during a time of year that promotes “peace on earth and good will toward men.”

Do you get more loyal donors in the fall vs. the spring?

In my opinion, not necessarily. I don’t have a lot of hard data on this, but several years ago we looked at the value/loyalty of an organization’s donors acquired in the spring vs. those acquired in the fall.

Donors acquired in the spring were more loyal. They made more repeat gifts, and more of them were still giving long after those who gave for the first time in the fall.

My educated guess is that it has a lot to do with their motivation for giving. Motivation for giving in the fall may be “peace on earth, good will toward men,” and not necessarily because they like your organization all that much.

But donors giving for the first time in the spring are a bit different, because they have no such motivation. Their motivation for giving is that they think highly of your organization.


In my view, most organizations want to be in the mail during the spring and fall months due to the fact that everyone else is in the mail. So, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But some of the best appeals we’ve done for our clients have been during the summer. A successful children’s home’s “Back To School” appeal drops in July, since school begins in August.

Due to the heavier mailing season in the fall, we encourage our clients to consider mailing earlier in the fall season, like September and October. There’s simply a ton of mailbox competition in November and December.

But don’t be afraid to mail in months that might not make the “Top 5″ in best months to mail – like August.


  1. Holidays – When mailing around a holiday, fund-raisers are well-advised to drop their appeals approximately four to five weeks before the actual holiday. In other words, your Thanksgiving appeal should go out no later than about the third week of October, and your Holiday/Christmas appeal should drop around the third week of November, just before or just after Thanksgiving.
  2. You don’t want your mailing to arrive during the week of a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas or when folks are away during a long weekend, like Memorial Day. What usually happens is that people who have been out of town come back to a big pile of mail, and they tend to trash it instead of reading it.
  3. December – When mailing in December, try to get in the mail no later than the first week of the month. The reason? The postal system is so clogged during this time of year, your mail might get delivered quickly enough to get a response back before Christmas or December 31 – unless you use first class postage, which might be too expensive.
  4. End of the Month – Some direct mail consultants advise mailing at the end of the month to take advantage of the fact that seniors receive their Social Security checks around the first of the month (precisely on the first if they have direct deposit). This, of course, depends upon whether your key donor demographic is in the 66+ age group.
  5. Significant Events – Mailing too close to “disaster” events like a terrorist attack, hurricane or tsunami can have a deleterious effect on the response of your mailings. Usually it’s best to wait several weeks after a significant event like this to send your mailing.
  6. Bad Economy – A struggling economy can have an effect on mail results, but a poor economy usually doesn’t improve quickly. Sometimes you have to take your lumps and keep on mailing in hopes that things will turn around. What typically happens during times like these is - people still give, but at a lower average gift. You may need to lower the amount of your ask in order to maintain participation.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
The 7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 6)

By: Wayne Gurley


Your budget is a critical factor in determining direct marketing success. Most budgetary issues are determined by the kinds of audiences an organization will be soliciting.

The lion’s share of a direct mail budget usually goes to prospecting. As a result, the cost of your prospect package is crucial. If you spend too much, you can damage your results, and along with it, your budget.

On the other hand, you don’t want to make your package look crummy, either – especially if you are the kind of organization known for quality services (like a hospital or medical center).

Stay away from pressure-sensitive or cheshire labels on a closed face envelope. It screams “JUNK MAIL!” And don’t use a pre-printed mailing indicia. Instead, use a live stamp or a meter imprint. Also, when using a closed face envelope, be sure to address it either with laser or high quality ink-jet imaging.

In fund raising, there’s a fine line between a quality image and a cheap one. You can make a package look so expensive that a prospect might feel you’d be wasting their money if they sent you a gift.

In this regard, stay away from fancy graphics and processes like gold or silver foil-stamping – unless you’re promoting a membership or giving club offer, in which case a little extra “flash” might be appropriate. Just be careful of the image you project.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
The 7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 5)

By Wayne Gurley

Next in our review of the seven most critical variables in direct mail is Format.


In direct mail, “format” (or package) is the manner in which you transport your message to your intended audience. And you have a wide variety of choices from which to choose.

From postcards (single, double and triple)…to self-mailers (usually a single piece of paper folded and labeled)…to catalogs, to the traditional classic workhorse envelope package (window and closed face)…each has its own advantages, disadvantages and usages.

Let’s talk a bit about each one:

Postcards – These inexpensive mailers are often used to promote subscription and other offers requiring “two-steps” – in other words, a response and a follow-up invoice.

Since they have no mechanism for returning a payment, they are usually only good for offers that seek “sign-me-up–and-bill-me-later” respondents.

Postcards aren’t very useful for charities or other offers that require immediate payment. You also can’t add a credit card payment option since sensitive information goes back through the mail in full view of anyone who wishes to see it.

Self-Mailers – Like postcards, these are a lot cheaper to mail, but also have their limitations. Unlike postcards, many of them have their own tear-off reply envelopes so that checks can be returned. These messages are viewed more as “announcements” or promotions than solicitations, and therein lies their weakness.

Many fundraising consultants say they don’t work and flatly refuse to use them. I tend to agree. That’s why you don’t see them very often.

Envelope Mailers – The workhorse of direct mail. Classic envelope mailers work because they approximate the personal, one-to-one correspondence from one individual to another.

Due to cost, most envelope packages favor window versions, but their more expensive cousins – the full-front or closed face envelope – also have their unique place with certain audience segments.

You can get envelopes in a variety of sizes and different types of materials – including a thin plastic called a “polybag.”

Catalogs – Not often seen in fundraising, catalogs are normally reserved for companies that have a wide variety of products or services to promote. Catalogs often have built-in reply envelopes but mostly are used to promote online or telephone sales.

Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment
The 7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 4)

By Wayne Gurley

Next in our review of the seven most critical variables in direct mail is – artwork.

Simply put, your artwork (or graphics, if you prefer) is the way you choose to display your copy and message.

The main thing to remember when thinking about artwork is that its main purpose is to enhance your copy – not sell. Only your copy can do that.


A common mistake I see in many direct mail packages is what I call “overcreativity.” The graphics are simply too flashy and either dominate or overpower the message.

In classic communication theory, this is called “channel noise” – anything that gets in the way of communicating your message.

Photos or clever graphics splashed all over the outside envelope – perhaps even with teaser copy that doesn’t really “tease,” but instead telegraphs the contents of the package to the potential donors – are a few things that can cause response loss.

And if a reader thinks he or she knows what’s inside your package, then it’s doomed to failing the dreaded “trash can” test.

Inside, photos on the letterhead, overblown logos or designs crowding out the copy, or a long list of your board of directors also can be grave offenders.

Remember this important rule: Don’t do anything to distract the reader from your message – or your results may suffer.


Many direct marketers seem hell-bent on overwhelming their readers with creativity. They want their package to “stand out” in a crowded mailbox. To a large extent, this is a noble pursuit.

But there are other ways to accomplish this goal. Sometimes being subtle is the best way to achieve differentiation. Changing the format of your package slightly – perhaps by using a larger or even smaller package size or envelope color – is another option. Or, switching from a window to a closed face package is another possibility. Using absolutely nothing on the front of your envelope is also very intriguing – you’ve simply got to open it to find out what’s inside!

Canadian direct mail expert Stephen Thomas once quoted Roger Craver on using artists: “It’s best to use a bad artist. But if you must use a good artist, ruin them first.”

Graphic designers use fancy designs to show people how good they are. But they forget their main objective is to get a response – not impress people with their artistic skill.


If you aren’t careful, using flashy graphics can backfire on you.  If your prospect or donor thinks you spent too much money creating your package, he or she may think you’re wasting money and won’t send you a gift to be used in similar fashion.

So be careful of the image you project. If you’re a health care institution, your package must match the level of quality care you are selling. But if you go overboard, people may say, “So that’s why they charge me $100 for an aspirin!”

On the other hand, if you’re creating a package for Mercedes-Benz, don’t look cheap. Pull out all the stops.


Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment