A Direct Mail Contest

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Ruth McCambridge

I’d like to pose a challenge to you. With a prize even!

First, a confession—I’m a direct mail nerd.

I like receiving direct mail and email appeals because I get to look at what other people are doing in fundraising. Years ago I developed my own fundraising writing style by watching one particular man’s work. He was a well-known executive who eventually disgraced himself but he wrote appeals that drew you in and scraped at your heart and made you imagine. And they raised plenty of cash.

But of course I love to study words and how they work between people (hence the editor in chief title).

Until recently, I thought that my fascination with the words we use to encourage people to throw in with our causes was a little extreme. But yesterday I was sitting with a lovely woman who manages a big sophisticated organization known for its excellent fundraising among other things and she mentioned how much she loved the article we published in our last issue on the language of fundraising appeals. It is really nerdy but boy, does it resonate!

The more academic paper from which this article was drawn caught my attention originally because it re-iterates something simple that ends up getting obfuscated in all the hoo-ha about the new donor interest in measurable outcomes.

What gets forgotten is that giving is very often a function of the “gut”—an expression of the donor’s humanity and values. The other thing that gets forgotten by the way is that there is a dearth of research backing up the claim about a change in donor motivation.

But the point gets repeated so often and authoritatively that we all half believe it. We’ll follow up on this point in our next edition of NPQ, but right now . . .

I’d like to do our own little scan and ask you to send us your favorite fundraising letters. Send us (e-mail or snail mail) the ones that moved you or your donors in a powerful way and tell us from your perspective what makes them work. We’ll choose a few and, with your permission, build a follow up article around them (you will have full editing rights).

And just to sweeten the pot, the letter our staff considers to be the best will win its author a year’s free subscription to NPQ. If you already, as you know you should, have a subscription, we will add 18 months of free issues to your existing subscription.

I can’t wait to see your entries! Beach reading for that end of summer break.

  • Pamela Grow

    I’ve found another direct mail nerd! I, too, delight in the appeal letters in my in-box and eagerly read each one (alas, usually to be disappointed).

    Looking forward to your results!