Tutorial 15: creating a chemical reaction.

When you put a letter, a reply card, a reply envelope and an enclosure in a carrier envelope, you are mixing together five separate elements. But suddenly, when they are all in the package, you no longer have five separate items. Instead you have a chemical reaction.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
February 14, 2019

It can be an explosion with the elements working together to create a fantastic and irresistible appeal.

Or, it can be a dud.

The basic package theory

A direct mail fundraising package is a blend of words, layout, emotion, envelope, letter, and colour. Its purpose is to motivate the donor to send back a gift.

The package must:

  1. Attract attention
  2. Stimulate the reader
  3. Evoke response.

If you don’t attract attention, then your letter will never be read. If you don’t stimulate the reader, then you can’t expect to receive a response. And if you don’t receive a response then your package has failed.

The most productive fundraising packages are built around a central theme, with every element in the package working together to promote, interpret and look at that theme from several angles.

Actually, the word ‘theme’ is not quite precise enough. A good package has more than a theme: it has a chemical ingredient so strong that it is irresistible. What is this chemical ingredient? Well, it may be the story of an individual, or the use of personalisation, or an offer.

Whatever it is, as the reader goes through the package, suddenly that central chemical ingredient interacts with everything else and zap – the reader is inspired to immediately respond with a donation.

Probably the weakest package you can develop is one where the letter makes an appeal for money in general and the reply device does not use any words that tie back into the letter. In such cases, you simply don’t have any chance for a chemical reaction.

Your package must be tied together by some obvious technique, such as personalisation, a story, a headline, an emergency statement, or a goal, etc.

An appeal will always work better, even to donors of the highest educational levels, if the package is completely transparent – that is, the donor knows exactly what you need money for, when you need that money, how much you need and the consequences if you don’t receive the money.

If there is any confusion in the mind of your reader, your returns will be reduced in direct proportion to that confusion. So, to make your chemical reaction explode, you must have the element of simplicity. This does not mean that the package is patronising or belittles the intelligence of the donor. But the concept must be simple.

The chemical reaction theory means that a fundraising package is not like a brochure, or a newsletter, or a magazine ad, or any other single marketing project. If you labour for days over your letter and then hurriedly knock out a reply device and an enclosure, you run the risk of weakening your chemical reaction.

On the other hand, some packages work fantastically well if there is some outstanding element in the package that is so strong that it dominates everything else. As you might expect, there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a chemical explosion, but here’s a checklist that may help you review your package when it is completed.

  1. Will the package stand out from other mail pieces when it arrives in the mailbox?
  2. Do the elements of the package fit together like they belong to each other?
  3. Does some piece stand out and shout for attention?
  4. Does the package demand that it be opened immediately?
  5. Is it easy for the reader to understand exactly what the package is all about?

Any package that is not personalised is compromised

We come back to one of the basic principles of direct mail fundraising: if your package is not personalised, it is compromised. This means that the package that is most likely to be opened is the one that is personalised.

If we could put a first-class stamp on every envelope, either write the address on the envelope by hand or use an old-fashioned typewriter, and enclose a personalised letter we could just about guarantee that every package would always be opened.

But since we are forced to deal with resource realities, we have no choice but to compromise. So direct mail fundraising is a study of compromise, starting with the highest level of personalisation.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance to these tutorials here.

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