5 Ways to Make Your Outer Envelope Do Its Job
Some things are simple. Take your outer envelope, for example. As our founder, Jerry Huntsinger, said, its “purpose is to get ripped open with as much anticipation as possible. Nothing else.”
Another copywriting legend, Herschell Gordon Lewis, wryly added that the envelope’s purpose is also “to keep the contents of the package from falling out,” but that doesn’t make any demands on copywriters, so let’s stick with getting your OE opened for the moment.
There are many ways to encourage people to open your OE. Show a photo of a hungry child or a wet dog, for example, and use the teaser, “Please help” is a classic. It touches the heart, and if the reader is sympathetic to your cause, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll look inside.
It’s a tried-and-true approach, but it has its built-in limitations. First, it only works on people who are already inclined to help. Second, it’s only useful if you’re raising funds to help struggling children or abandoned dogs, or doing other social services work. Third, no single approach works all the time.
To keep donors and prospects excited enough to rip open every package you send them, you need to vary the ways you get their attention. Here are five other OE ideas that have been proven to compel people to see what’s inside:
- Make an irresistible offer. If you have a front-end or back-end premium, put it right out there. “A special gift for you,” “Your gift will be doubled,” “Your free notecards enclosed” or anything else that promises something tangible in return for their gift will help encourage recipients to open the package or email and see what’s in it for them. (Premiums, of course, aren’t for everyone. And even when they are effective, they are a double-edged sword. More about that in a future message.)
- Ask a question. People don’t like ambiguity. It creates anxiety. They crave answers. “What will this hungry family do on Thanksgiving?” “How do you know if you have cancer?” “Who was the worst president in history?” Inquiring minds want to know, and they’ll rip open your envelope to find out.
- Create a fund. Winter fund, spring fund drive, back-to-school fund — for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, donors tend to respond well to funds, drives and similar fundraising “events.” An added bonus is that they’re repeatable. Long-term donors feel a reassuring sense of continuity when they receive the same fund appeal, at the same time, year after year. And if they respond once, it’s likely they’ll respond again.
- Ask for a favor, also known as the Ben Franklin Effect. Old Ben observed that when a person has performed some small service for you, they are even more likely to do another one. In fact, asking someone to do you a favor actually creates more loyalty than doing a favor for them. So ask, “Please RSVP” or “May I have your opinion?” People who help you with something little will feel so good that they’re even more likely to want to help you do something big.
- Do nothing. Sometimes the best teaser is no teaser at all. A plain envelope with no message other than your return address can be very compelling. Many organizations find this is the most effective approach of all for them. Just be aware that the success of the blank teaser seems to come in waves, so test it often.
You put a lot of hard work into crafting a great letter and a lot of investment into putting it in front of a carefully selected recipient. With so much riding on your message, you need to do everything you can to ensure it gets read. A few well-chosen words — or no words at all — can spell success or failure… or frustrating mediocrity. Spending time on serious research and testing to find the teasers that work for you will be time well spent.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.