Tuto­r­i­al 28: Is it time to get rid of dear friend’?

Is there a bet­ter way to get off to a good start when writ­ing a form letter?

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
February 01, 2019

Years ago, it was my fond hope that the ‘dear friend’ salutation would disappear forever with the advent of personalisation. But this has not happened. Inflation has kept up with technology. Today, direct mail fundraisers are still forced to use form letters and to deal with the ‘dear friend’ syndrome.

Here are some alternatives you may wish to consider. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether any or all of them are good, bad, or just plain ridiculous.

1. Informal salutation.

Good morning.

If you think it’s a really good morning, you might add an exclamation point. Of course, some will ask, ‘But what if the donor reads the letter in the evening?’ I suppose the only answer is that ‘good morning’ indicates when the letter was written. ‘Good afternoon’ or ‘good evening’ are possible variations on this theme, but they are not as cheerful.

2. The prepositional phrase.

Dear friend of homeless children.

You can probably think of a dozen variations here, using a prepositional phrase to describe the specific interest of the donor.

3. The attention grabber.

Dig a hole!

The opening paragraph would then launch right into the subject matter, with no warm up.

4. Adjectives and adverbs.

Dear concerned citizen.

This approach can be varied with any number of descriptive phrases to qualify the specific and unique characteristics of the donor.

5. The incomplete sentence.

You may wonder.

And the next paragraph would say, ‘... why is this letter coming to my home?”

6. Overt plea for mercy.

Help me!

7. No salutation at all.

I hope you will read every word of this letter – and join me in a most remarkable adventure.

8. Begin with a PS(!)

PS. Don’t forget to enclose your cheque when you request your additional set of name labels.

The next paragraph might say, ‘Here is a most unusual set of name labels, just for you.’

9. Provocative question.

Are you for or against abortion?

10. Establish a close relationship.

Dear fellow nature lover.

The use of the word ‘fellow’ is calculated to establish a quick rapport.

11. Fake a personal memo.

To: citizens concerned about the air you breathe.

Some readers may feel this approach has a certain emptiness without the words ‘dear friend’. But, on the other hand, perhaps many of our cherished ‘conventions’ are no longer valid.

Traditionally, the purpose of ‘dear friend’ in a form letter is to substitute for the personal salutation that is missing. The only reason I use a ‘dear friend’ salutation is to make the reader feel comfortable by following the classic traditions of the letter.

I’ll go on using ‘dear friend’ most of the time because my clients who, bless their hearts, pay the invoices get nervous when the opening eliminates ‘dear friend’. Obviously, complete personalisation solves the problem...

...or does it?

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger was revered in direct marketing circles as the ‘dean of direct mail’. Many years ago, Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII. All 57 of them are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide that covers everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising. Sadly, Jerry passed away in August 2023. 

These tutorials were edited and presented to SOFII by Gwen Chapman. Gwen 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 of these tutorials here.

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