The Mikuska Group  

Two direct mail letters – the great and the ugly

Like many of you, Laura and I get our share of direct mail appeals. Some work and others do not. So what makes a great appeal in contrast to one that turns people off?

Take a look at the first one, from World University Service of Canada. A worthy organization, to be sure. But their appeal letter falls flat.

WUSC letter

So what went wrong? First, it’s not about them. Whatever they think about their organization doesn’t matter to donors. Long paragraphs with long words and long sentences don’t cut it. Neither will claims of helping millions of people in dozens of countries, nor problems faced by thousands of people. All of the claims and problems may be true, but they’re not of interest to donors.

Think about it. As a donor, can you see yourself as part of the solution for 3 million refugees? Your gift will likely be a spit in the bucket so you might as well not send it.

There are no stories in the letter, only statistics and abstract concepts like “innovative educational initiatives have the potential to mitigate despair, create hope and change the landscape…” What??

The photos don’t add anything useful. We don’t know who’s in them or where or why they were taken. What’s up with the old school bell on the back?

It’s only in the last paragraph that they mention “you.” Up ’til then it’s been all about them. But the call to action is too abstract. “Invest in the future by creating hope, optimism and stability…!” Sheesh. How would my 50 bucks do that?

Contrast the WUSC letter to one from the Canadian Curling Association.

Curling appeal letter

The CCA took advantage of Team Canada’s skip Brad Jacob’s high profile and popularity to deliver their message. The tone is conversational and uses his story to make their case. It brings the reader in from the start, and circles around to the message again and again. It asks for gifts.

It imparts a sense of urgency: “Right now, early in the year, is the best time you can make a difference as CCA initiatives get underway across the country.”

It tells the story of the impact of curling on the community of Wynyard, SK. You can see the full curling sheets and the multi-generational users. You can feel the excitement.

It draws the reader in, for a shared experience: “Let’s do it together, for the love of curling.” 

The curling letter uses short sentences, concrete verbs and simple language. It says if you don’t do this now, curling clubs will continue to struggle – so your gift is needed now. It has a liberal use of “you.”

What kind of letters are you sending to your donors?

Julie Mikuska

P.S. If you’re looking for a great reference book, try The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications (Real-world Field-Tested Strategies for Raising More Money, by Jeff Brooks, available from Emerson and Church.


Blog Archives

Articles By Category