Cel­e­brat­ing Jer­ry Huntsinger – an exem­plary fundrais­er, writer, teacher and friend

There is a very spe­cial show­case on SOFII that you might not know about – but you real­ly should. It has oodles of fundrais­ing wis­dom and it’s called, quite sim­ply, The Jer­ry Huntsinger Tutorials.

Written by
June 23, 2024

Many years ago, Jerry Huntsinger (often known as ‘the dean of direct mail fundraising’) generously gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII. Made up of 57 parts, plus supporting materials, this insightful, practical series is a complete step-by-step guide to direct mail fundraising. And the short story is... it’s pure gold.

Here at SOFII we are incredibly proud to share The Jerry Huntsinger Tutorials on our site. In fact, our founder, Ken Burnett, still remembers when Jerry agreed to share his wisdom on SOFII.

Ken said:

I’d been begging, cajoling and cadging fundraising gurus for months for content for the then fledgling SOFII site and this, really, was the motherlode. All the tutorials in all their glory, just needing a teensy bit of editing (figuring this task required sensitive oversight from a direct mail expert, I handed it with confidence to the wonderful Gwen Chapman).
‘All we were missing now was a good photograph of the man himself. So, I contacted him by email, profusely thanked him and asked. His reply was blunt and apparently final – he didn’t like having his photo taken, it wasn’t necessary, go without. With some trepidation I persisted.
‘A reply came by return, with a photo attached and a simple message: “This’ll have to do”, or something similar. Eagerly I opened the file, then recoiled in horror – it was a bandana-clad tattooed muscle-bound thug with a chainsaw, breaking down a door. “This is how I like to be seen”, Jerry said. “Run this.” The picture wasn’t the real Jerry of course, it was his alter-ego Jean-Claude Van Damme, in full battle mode.
‘Later we acquired a delightful, much more sedate and reassuring image of the man himself, but I still really don’t know if he was joking, or not. I’m sure Jerry mostly got his way, without ever needing to employ a chainsaw.’

And so, from around 2010 until now, Jerry’s tutorials have lived on in perpetuity right here on SOFII. They are an indispensable part of fundraising’s history and an essential learning opportunity for fundraisers today.

Sadly, in August 2023, Jerry passed away aged 90. At the time, his friend of 52 years, Roger Craver, wrote about Jerry’s life and successful professional career in a touching post on his blog, The Agitator.

Jerry had a big impact on fundraisers around the globe too.

Mark Phillips, of Bluefrog Fundraising, said:

‘Jerry started writing fundraising letters in 1962 and over the years has probably written more of them than most people you could think of. Every single one his tutorials can improve your fundraising, but number 30, might be particularly useful if you work for an organisation that struggles with the approval process, where deadlines slip and costs mount as growing numbers of your colleagues tweak, adjust and re-write copy in an effort to ‘improve' your appeals.’

John Lepp, of Agents of Good, said:

‘Jerry Huntsinger is the gift that REALLY keeps giving. Sad that so many of today’s fundraisers have likely never heard of him!’

Almost a year on from Jerry’s passing, there’s no better time to remind you that if you haven’t read the Huntsinger tutorials please do so now.

To get you started, some of the SOFII team have shared their favourites below. These are just the ones we love and there are 53 more for you to explore. Why not read one a day for the next 57 days? You really won’t regret it.

Meredith Niles

All the Huntsinger Tutorials are full of actionable tips on how to make your appeals more impactful. But I am especially pleased that he has included a full tutorial on ethics. Just because a technique could lift results doesn’t mean you should employ it. Maintaining trust is vital to a healthy relationship between supporters and charities, which is why I love Tutorial 49: Persuasion or exaggeration?’

Lynda Harwood-Compton 

My favourite Huntsinger tutorial is Tutorial 13: The PS How to have the final word. I absolutely love a PS. It is probably the last thing a donor reads in your letter, yet it can be so powerful and personal. We always include a PS in our SOFII newsletters, as it is one more chance to say something that we really want the reader to know. Readers who scan will often still see your PS.’

Joanna Culling

‘Many of Jerry’s tutorials are short and easily digestible. They are ALL impactful and easy to apply to our work. Plus, a lot of them are about writing so, as a copywriter, it’s hard for me to choose just one. In the end I went for one of the longer tutorials – Tutorial 20: Paragraphs – forget school English.
I love this because many fundraisers struggle to let go of the prescriptive grammar and style that is taught in school – even though it could do their writing a world of good. Jerry was right. Writing the way that you talk will never go out of style, especially when it comes to fundraising and communicating with donors.’

Carolina Herrera

Jerry's tutorials are an invaluable resource. I love sharing them with SOFII users, especially when they email me asking for direct mail tips. But personally, as someone who works on a variety of SOFII projects, I've always appreciated the design recommendations that Jerry shares in Tutorial 12: Principles of layout. He discusses letter design in particular, yet these tips on eye movement, ‘stoppers’ and more can benefit fundraisers sending out all types of communications.’

Which one of the Huntsinger tutorials is your favourite? Help us celebrate Jerry by sharing your choice in the comments below (or on social media). We would love to hear from you!

About the author: SOFII

The SOFII collection aims to be the most comprehensive, best organised, and most inspiring collection of fundraising related content from around the world.

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