Why reinvent the wheel?



“How to make your next direct mail design pop!”

“Top ten eye-catching direct mail techniques!”

“Dazzle your donors with these unique designs!”

Looking for that next attention-grabbing and creative direct mail letter idea?

You’re not alone.  With just a few keywords and a click of the mouse button, Google spits out dozens of headlines like this.  Apparently, there are a lot of direct mail writers feeling the drag of writing letter after identical letter to their donors.

Being in this industry so long, I can tell you the struggle to write and design the Greatest Most Innovative Most Refreshing Fundraising Letter Ever is very real.  We’re all trying to juggle cost and time-tested strategies with unique designs that will excite our donors -- fundraising letters that won’t just blend in with every other envelope our donors pull out of their mailboxes.

There is absolutely something to be said for always looking for those little touches to add to your letter or the design of your envelope.  Sometimes the smallest pop of color is all it takes to spark your donors’ curiosity enough to open your letter and see what’s inside.

But there’s repainting the wheel...and then there’s completely reinventing it.

There’s certainly no limit to the design options and concepts you can come up with to titillate your donors -- and with the glut of advice online about how to jazz up your ho-hum fundraising appeals, you might think you need to be the Van Gogh of direct mail to keep your donors on board with your cause.

                                                                     Four-sided isn't too much better.

                                                                    Four-sided isn't too much better.

But while a three-sided wheel is definitely eye-catching, it’s not going to get your wagon very far.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to write wildly different fundraising appeals or by forcing your letters to fit extreme design concepts.  Although your letter may seem new and refreshing to you, in many cases, all your exciting concept is going to do is run up cost, confuse your donors, and fall depressingly flat.

Writing fundraising letters to your donors day in and day out, you may feel pretty quickly that you’re looking at the same designs and the same verbiage over and over and over again.  The temptation to reinvent the wheel is probably due more to your own feelings than what you think your donors are feeling.

Your donors might even find these high concept fundraising ideas patronizing -- if your cause is a good one and deserving of your donors’ support, why not spare them all the quirky stuff and get right to the point: your cause is important and you need your donor’s help to make your goals a reality.

At the end of the day, what we know donors want are straightforward appeals, updates, and thank yous.  They don’t want to feel tricked.  They don’t want to feel frustrated by elaborate packaging.  They don’t want to have to hunt for your message or call-to-action beneath your concept. 

                                               CLassics are classics for a reason.

                                              CLassics are classics for a reason.

So as you consider non-standard envelopes and colorful bold teaser, ask yourself if these features are relevant to the content of your message -- your design ideas should be secondary to your message and never the other way around.  If you’re adding something just to “make it pop,” chances are all it’s doing is driving up cost and eating into your donations.

The reason we haven’t reinvented the wheel is because it still turns.  It may be the same-old-same-old, but it’s still the best way to get your wagon where it needs to go.