The blank outside envelope – is it a good idea for your fundraising appeals?

People say that if you want to increase the open rates for direct mail fundraising, use a blank outside envelope. No teaser. No organization logo. Nothing to signal that it’s a fundraising letter or even whom it’s coming from.

Or, you use teasers and other markings (like “Time sensitive”) that are so vague they provide no indication about what might be inside.

The theory, of course, is that the mystery of the blank or the intentionally vague outside envelope will entice donors to rip it open to see what’s inside.

That theory is probably right. After all, who can resist the blank outer envelope? Not many of us! You just have to know what’s inside, don’t you?

But … what happens when you do open the envelope and realize it’s something you don’t want, don’t need, don’t care about, or don’t see the relevance of, and you simply toss the whole appeal? What have we really achieved? It’s the fundraising equivalent of ‘made you look!’

Another way to approach the whole outside-envelop thing is to take a piece of advice from DM guru George Duncan. He maintains that direct mail is theater in print. And the outside envelope is where we set the stage.

One of the most important parts of the outer envelope, George says, is the corner card, the return address in the upper left-hand corner. It’s one of the main things recipients look at. Is this from somebody I know or want to know? If you’ve effectively targeted your donor, the answer will be yes.

That’s part of the battle. Another part centers around three kinds of teasers:

  1. The offer teaser: Here you present donors with a specific proposition. An example would be something like, “Your gift multiplies 4X in impact to save starving children in Africa.” This kind of approach tends to work best when you know your donors and what they want.
  2. The benefit teaser: This approach is all about a promise or benefit for the reader. An example would be something like, “Celebrate the most joyous Thanksgiving ever by transforming the life of someone who’s homeless.” Just like the offer teaser, the benefit needs to be something that resonates with your donors.
  3. The curiosity teaser: Here we get a little oblique with the messaging. It could be something like, “Why Amina will thank you with tears in her eyes.” You want to tell just enough so that your donor sort of has a feeling about what the letter might be about but isn’t really sure. That’s what gives the curiosity teaser its power. But of the three it’s the riskiest.

Setting the stage with the outer envelope doesn’t always mean using a teaser. But in many cases, it will. The variations in envelope types and teasers are endless. A fancy, invitation-looking envelope with a simple “R.S.V.P” on the front might set the stage very well. So could a simple No. 10 envelop with a benefit teaser that connects. It all depends. What we’re aiming for is to stop our donor in her tracks when she sees the envelope and have it be so compelling and so relevant that she can’t wait to open it up, and then once she does, to have her expectations confirmed that this is in fact something that she’s very interested in. Setting the stage like that, you generate interest with the outer envelope and then sustain that interest with the content inside, making it easy for donors to get engaged with the mailing. And give.

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This entry was posted in copywriting, fundraising, nonprofit and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The blank outside envelope – is it a good idea for your fundraising appeals?

  1. Cheri Pogue says:

    Interesting points! We just did a small mailing for our donors and elected to have the return address label on the envelope. A side benefit (of the label) is that it helps us keep our mailing list in decent shape with current addresses.

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