In a mailbox that’s a little less crowded than just a few years ago, there’s still a daunting task at hand for fundraisers: how to stand out to the prospective member or donor.
Even with a full box of exciting tools at your disposal—like four-color, variable data printing or extra windows galore to tease the content inside—the good ol’ envelope is still just an envelope, right? That is, except when it isn’t, and we’re not talking about a self-mailer.
Yes, you can still keep all the elements of a tried-and-true direct-mail envelope package that you know and love—letter, inserts, reply form and reply envelope—exactly the same. The difference is what you can use to hold them. Variations that do the same job as the traditional envelope have enjoyed some success, thanks to adventurous nonprofit mailers. Here are a few of our favorites.
This approach features a thicker, coated paper stock, usually folded into thirds with the ends spot-glued or wafer-sealed shut. It mails with dimensions of, say, 6″x11″, but measures 6″x16.25″ when fully opened. It’s popped up a few times in the mailstream.
A recent Democratic National Committee fundraising package used this format.
This campaign consisted of a letter, a donation form and a business reply envelope. But it doubled as a door-to-door campaign kit by including a big sheet of stickers and a couple of door hangers, and putting the folded outer itself to work as a sign fit for a window or even a yard.
Like a calendar or bumper sticker, when displayed, the single picture or sign is a great way to remind donors of their commitment. Even better, that now-opened poster helps support the brand or even a specific campaign or appeal.
Another envelope substitute (called “PlyPak” by one manufacturer) cleverly uses all of its interior real estate to take the place of brochures and buck slips in the direct-mail package. Measuring a little larger than a standard No. 10 envelope, this format employs a thicker paper stock with four-color bleeds right to the edge. Its panels are wafer-sealed or spot-glued; pull them apart from each other, and they open up like petals on a flower. Sitting atop the middle panel is the letter and reply envelope, as well as other components. It’s a compelling package that, in the hands of the right designer, copywriter and project manager, can wow a large variety of audiences.
Here’s a good example from American Farmland Trust. The special matching appeal focuses on the loss of farmland—an acre a minute—and the mailer is designed to look like a round analog clock when all the folds are opened, reinforcing the message.
Yet another nice play on this envelope is an invitational-style self-mailer that folds open, with a reply card that hinges open to the side. This setup makes it easy for the prospect to respond.
But format design isn’t always where out-of-the-box thinking shines. Sometimes it happens with standard-format mailings as well, as in moves to incorporate digital copy and design tactics.
A membership mailing from Ocean Conservancy used a clickbait-like teaser on the front: “10 things you never knew about the ocean that will amaze you! Number 3 will take your breath away.” On the back, the clincher: “Warning: Number 1 might make you cry.”
We had to open it to see what it was all about. The leaflet inside, with the 10 ocean facts, didn’t disappoint. It skillfully and quickly connected all of them to the organization’s mission of protecting ocean life. (By the way, fact No. 1—that only one in 1,000 sea turtles now survives into adulthood because of human activity—made us tear up.)
Other ways fundraisers have been adapting elements familiar to digital audiences include replacing words with icons or using infographics, which have enormous potential. African Wildlife Foundation used a particularly effective one to help back one of its appeals.
These tactics may not be appropriate for every nonprofit or every campaign, but their use does provide some good food for thought. They should be tested, if nothing else. So, how do you think outside the box?
Paul Bobnak is the director of Who's Mailing What!, the most complete, searchable and fully online library of direct mail and email in the world. He has read and analyzed thousands of direct mail packages (offers, copy, designs, incentives and formats) and email in more than 200 industry categories, including retail, nonprofits, insurance, telecom, B-to-B, financial services and publishing. He writes for the e-newsletter Today @ Target Marketing and has been a judge in NonProfit PRO's Gold Awards for Fundraising Excellence since 2006.