Baby, Come Back ...
Some people collect stamps, or coins, or salt shakers, or whatever. Me — I collect direct mail. Enough of it that the word "hoarder" has been spoken, but I'm not bad enough yet for an episode of that show on A&E.
I keep it because looking at the mail collectively, you see the ebb and flow of our industry. You can see what's currently working, what's falling out of favor or what's enjoying a revival. You can see all the different ways we adapt to new postal regulations that cramp our creative style or bust our budgets.
You can also watch things like what seems to be a "premium arms race" happening in the environmental market these days. Apparently one tote bag isn't enough anymore. One nonprofit recently offered me a colorful set of four bags as enticement to renew my membership.
I'm holding out on that organization and everyone else for a while yet, though. I deliberately became a lapsed donor (13+ months) in early 2010 in order to receive more reinstatement and acquisition mail, to see how nonprofits would endeavor to woo me back.
And woo they have, with verve
Overall, I noticed a rising use of note card packages. Almost all are closed-face baronial envelopes with real or simulated handwritten addressing and the automation barcode moved away from the recipient's address. Sometimes no organization name is on the envelope to identify who the card is from; on others the return address is also handwritten. All have live stamps, usually uncanceled nonprofit. Adding a mailer's cancellation mark across the stamp — since the U.S. Postal Service doesn't — would make these packages look even more like First Class mail.
The cards inside vary greatly. They go from the incredibly plain with just a logo on the cover to color photographs or illustrations to a personalized message. Some have typed messages that fill the entire inside of the card, while others use only the bottom half below the fold. Some use simulated or real handwriting for all or part of a personalized message; others are printed without personalization. Most have reply slips but not all.
St. Labre Indian School has two note card offers that I've received several times. I love the copy and creative execution in both.
In the first, the cover of the card is personalized and formatted like a certificate. It reads, "Mr. Curtis Yarlott joins the Board of Directors of St. Labre Indian School in recognizing Kimberly Seville as a True Friend and Patron of the Indian Children of St. Labre since 2001."
Inside, on the top panel in realistically sized, simulated blue handwriting, it says, "Please allow me the honor of doing something special for you, Kimberly." A second paragraph offers an envelope for my prayer requests. "It's the least I can do for such an important friend as you."
A typed, personalized note on the bottom half of the card begins, "Anniversaries are important milestones. Realizing it's been more than a year since you last shared a gift with St. Labre, I felt you deserved special recognition." The rest of the note is classic renewal language but gentle in tone and completely consistent with this outstanding donor-centric copy.
The design, printing and production on St. Labre's second note card reinstatement effort are so well-done it makes all the others pale in comparison. If there's a willing suspension of disbelief with direct mail like there is in the theater, there's no need for it with this package — it's that good.
The note is plain, white card stock, nothing special, with St. Labre's "help keep the miracle alive" logo on the cover in black. Inside, a nonpersonalized message is printed on the bottom half of the card in blue ink. It's a precise reproduction of genuine handwriting that's stunning in its realism:
"Thank you again for sharing what you can with the Indian children here at St. Labre. Every dollar you contribute really does make a difference! Even if things get 'tight' and you find yourself unable to share a gift, remember you will always remain in our thoughts and prayers. When the time is right, I know you will again share your blessings. Until then, don't forget to send me any requests the children and I can include in our prayers for you!" — signed simply, "Curtis."
I received that package in early August, then in late September and again the first week of December. In the last one, a photo is inserted into the note with a description on the back explaining that it's a picture of St. Labre's kids re-enacting the Christmas story. Nice touch of seasonality there … but — pssst, St. Labre — next time get the person who wrote the inscription inside the card to also write the photo caption instead of using a handwriting font, and you'll have an even more impressive winner!
CARE also has a greeting card reinstatement effort that's outstanding, but for different reasons. I think it's the only one in all the stacked cartons of my 2010 mail with a 44-cent stamp, and the outer envelope is a distinctive textured cream stock. The cover of the card is a colorful illustration of a flower with a headline that reads, "Your Compassion Means Everything." Inside, a brief message below a personalized salutation says simply, "We haven't heard from you in a while. I hope you are well. Your support is sorely missed and the need is still great. Please can you help us again?" Together with the salutation and signature, the package gets it done in 35 words, no easy task — but necessary if you're paying for inscription by the word.
With so many ways to mix and match what's printed, lasered or hand-inscribed — and in how many words — this format has so much to offer. A standing ovation to two organizations using it and really working its woo factor to win back donors! FS
Kimberly Seville is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Reach her at email@example.com.