Book Excerpt: Plain, Corny and Obvious
Editor's note: Regular readers of FundRaising Success are already familiar with Jeff Brooks' keen insights, practical advice and saucy style. So we're thrilled that he's penned the new book, "The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications." Here's an except from Chapter 14: "Plain, Corny and Obvious." You can purchase Jeff's book through the FundRaising Success bookstore.
From the book: Through close observation, fundraisers have discovered three "Design Laws" — practices that, if we follow them well, encourage our fundraising messages to bear fruit. Those laws are: Make it plain; make it corny; make it obvious.
First Law: Make it plain. A piece of direct mail has to get noticed. If it gets noticed, it may get opened. If it gets opened, it may get read. If it gets read, it may get a response. This fact leads many fundraisers to break the First Law: They over-design the envelope. Cover it with images and type. Sometimes artsy and beautiful, sometimes as busy as Times Square.
This is usually a mistake. In our over-marketed society, when someone's trying to get our attention everywhere we look, a whisper can have more impact than a shout.
In direct testing, an envelope with no image and no teaser outperforms one with a teaser about 75 percent of the time. A plain envelope is generally your best bet.
You might conclude, then, that teasers on envelopes are the equivalent of poison ivy, that it's just a bad idea to go near them.
I don't think so. It's just that most teasers are so bad they do more harm than good. You're better off with nothing. But an envelope with a good teaser always performs better than an unmarked envelope.
The main reason so many teasers fail to get their envelope opened is this: They leave no mystery. They give it away, leaving donors with no reason to open the envelope and look inside. Curiosity is a powerful motivator. Have you ever been to a nude beach? If you have, you know how unenticing it can be when everything is revealed.
Second Law: Make it corny. I've known fundraisers who've spent their whole careers pointlessly fighting the Second Law, trying to create classy, modern, nice-looking appeals they'd feel good about showing around.
Corny design that works well in fundraising is old-fashioned, unsophisticated and ugly (personally, I hesitate to call design that makes the world a better place "ugly" — that seems more like a definition of "beautiful").
Third Law: Make it obvious. I like puzzles. Give me a few idle moments and a crossword or a Sudoku, and I'm happy. Like most people, I like the small victories of discovering something that's hidden.
But I view with perfect hatred any puzzle I'm forced to do. Complicated tax forms. Expense reports that won't reconcile. Anything to do with insurance.
You aren't the IRS. Donors can walk away from your puzzle the moment they realize they're having to work to figure out what you're saying.
Don't let that happen! Design everything so it's completely puzzle free: Place a dotted line over every perforation or anyplace you want people to cut or tear. If there's no perforation, add a little graphic of scissors cutting along the line to really make it clear.
- Put important points in bigger and bolder type.
- Have arrows pointing at places where you want people to look.
- Include a phrase like "Please turn page" at the bottom of the page when copy continues on to the other side.
- Use plenty of underlining.
- Use starbursts to call attention to key points.
The main thing to remember about making it obvious is this: if the donor has to figure it out, she probably won't. And hardly anything is self-evident.