What's Above Your Fold?
How do you open your mail? Do you pull out all the contents, or do you open the package like a wallet and thumb through what's inside? I ask because we know much too much about the workings of mail, and it's easy to forget that donors don't handle and look at what we send them the way we do.
Back when I had a post office box, I used to stake out the room to watch people get their mail at the end of the day and see them flip through it and toss some pieces into a big bin marked for recycling. There was a big island counter in the center of the P.O. box room, and on the luckiest days I'd have a chance to watch people open their mail — and that's when I realized there are content-pullers and thumb-throughers, and the latter were more likely to toss mail without a closer look.
There is zero science involved in my post office stakeouts, so take that for what it is. But I bring it up because it raises an interesting question.
Your package gets opened … now what?
Using the thumb-through method, I opened a bunch of mail and peeked inside. Here's some of what I read quickly:
"You should have seen the look on Katy's face when she heard someone say, 'Set two more places at the table!'" That's from St. Labre Indian School, and the letter jumps right into the story, tugging you in.
So does International Rescue Committee's: "Akot was frantic. All night long, she stood vigil over her ailing 9-month-old baby, Sarah, who was coughing nonstop and desperately gasping for breath." Thumbing past the letter, I caught the center of a glossy insert with an image of a string of beads surrounding the words, "Counting Correctly," and I had to know more about that. (It turns out they're used to count every breath a child takes, and if the red beads are reached before a minute has passed, the child definitely has pneumonia and needs antibiotics.)
Disabled American Veterans's letter has a personalized message to me at the top with swipes of yellow highlighter over it: "Kimberly, your contribution of $27 means so much to the 137,265 disabled vets in [your state]." Flipping past that I found a bunch of DAV's hallmark premiums, a daily planner, metallic "Made in America" flag stickers, and a coated sheet with a punch-out bookmark and credit card-sized calendar. All very colorful components and not much copy visible, it's all about the goodies.
The first thing I saw in both UNICEF and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) packages was an image of the back-end premium offered. UNICEF's is a buckslip about the T-shirt inserted in front of the letter. WWF's zippered cooler bag's headline and photo take up the entire top panel of the letter.
The piece from Sierra Club is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink package, and looking inside the first thing I noticed was a colorful glossy insert that turns out to be a big map of the United States. It's surrounded by several inserts, one of which is a slick about the back-end backpack premium, a buckslip about a special $19 renewal rate offer, a buckslip about founder John Muir, and somewhere in the middle, the letter.
From the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a headline below Vice President Joe Biden's name reads, "FIVE — The number of races Republicans need to win this year to seize full control of the federal government." If that doesn't grab Democratic donors' attention, I don't know what would.
Don't let this happen to you
Here I don't name names, but in several cases the first and only thing I saw when I thumbed open the carrier was either a return envelope or nothing more than a logo and "Dear Friend" or "Dear Ms. Seville." The letter copy was all below the fold, hidden.
For thumb-through donors, they missed your great opening. All that angst over getting the copy just right to make your offer as compelling as you can, and your letter doesn't get read.
Above the fold is precious real estate. St. Labre and IRC use the pull of a story. UNICEF and WWF make sure you see the back-end premium offer right away (although, in fairness, you can't miss it in the WWF package since it's all over the outer envelope, too). Joe Biden uses a threat.
Use whatever works for you, but use something. Make the top panel of your letter work as hard as your carrier envelope did to simply get opened in the first place.
And insertion order matters. The return envelope typically holds little allure, so if you have a great insert about your offer, rather than bury it in the middle of the package, put it in front of the reply envelope. Make sure those thumb-through folks see it first … so they turn into content-pullers and engage with you.
Kimberly Seville is a creative consultant and nonprofit copywriter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org