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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Valuable direct mail concept absolutely free
Tom Ahern

September, 2010

The challenge...

Most people would have said, "Why bother?"

Year after year, this mid-sized community hospital sent its 800 or so doctors a direct mail appeal, asking them to support the annual fund. And year after year, the doctors failed to respond.

Could anything change that behavior? Normal direct mail hadn't worked. History proved that. Only abnormal direct mail, in my opinion, had any hope of a breakthrough. After all, what did the hospital have to lose?

The proposed solution...

Send an appeal with the following declaration printed on the outbound envelope (or, alternatively, at the top of the letter, as a Johnson box):

This letter is the first
of six determined attempts
to win your heart to our cause.

The letter would then quickly point out that the hospital really didn't want to send six appeals -- but it was willing to go that far, if necessary. Why? Because gifts from doctors are special: their gifts are seen as votes of confidence in the mission and vision. When doctors don't give, other donors wonder, Why not?

What happened next...


The hospital rejected my recommendation and went instead with a vanilla annual appeal. Which reaped almost nothing from the doctors yet again.

So there you have it: an idea whose time is yet to come. I offer it free and without restriction to any organization hungry and bold enough to try something different.

Why do I think this concept (or something similar) might work?

Couple of reasons.

First, human inertia is often the real enemy in direct mail fundraising. The truth is, most people ignore most of their direct mail most of the time. Have they decided against you? Not necessarily. They simply haven't acted at that moment.

So you give them another chance to act, by mailing again. It's the same principle catalog retailers depend on.

I once mailed the very same acquisition package to the very same well-qualified list of millionaire philanthropists three times in the course of a few months. And each mailing picked up additional respondents. Had we stopped at one mailing, we'd have settled for a 3% response. By mailing the same offer three times to the same list, we aggregated a 6% response, as more and more people overcame their inertia.

Showing well-qualified prospects right up front that you are not going to quit ("the first of six determined attempts") can lead more people to put aside their natural-born inertia and act now.

Second, never forget the real purpose of an envelope in a direct mail appeal. That purpose is to get opened. If the envelope isn't opened, the rest of the ask can't go to work. So make your envelope interesting.

>>> Takeaway>>> Try a teaser that demands attention. I love the boldness of the Smile Train acquisition appeal that has this message on its outbound envelope: Make one gift now and we'll never ask for another donation again! How compelling! It promises: Just get past your inertia this once -- and you'll never have to get past your inertia again. It worked for me. I sent in my $250 (the cost of a face- and life-changing surgery). And did I check the box on the reply device that said "Please do not ask me for another donation"? Not on your life. Now that I've joined the Smile Train family, I want to hear more.


Find Tom Ahern at to learn lots more! 


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