Tuto­r­i­al 31: Make me an offer I can’t resist

The oth­er day a mail­ing arrived from the Book of the Month Club with a mag­nif­i­cent offer.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 29, 2019

 The teaser on the envelope read:

‘We have a special offer for you: choose four books for one dollar each with no obligation to buy any more.’

Now the problem with nonprofit mail is that often letters ask for a donation, but fail to make an offer.

In a commercial mailing package we all know that the product answers the question of ‘what do I get for my money?’ And the offer provides an irresistible reason to buy the product. Commercial writers rarely confuse these two elements.

For example, a mailing from Financial World structured the offer as:

‘Yes! Please send me the next four issues of Financial World – absolutely free. If I like them, I’ll pay just $9.75 and receive 9 additional issues (for a total of 13). That’s a savings of 50 per cent off the regular subscription rate. This is the lowest price available anywhere.’

And then comes the ‘kicker’ to the offer:

‘No cost, no obligation. If I don’t choose to subscribe, I’ll return your invoice marked “cancel”. The free issues will be mine to keep. And I will owe you nothing.’

Now that’s a real offer, isn’t it? It gives you a reason to place your order and to place your order immediately. If you fail to provide an incentive for quick action, the customer delays and procrastinates. That’s deadly.

An organisation that sends out an appeal for funds without any specific detail about what the gift is going to provide is failing to provide the prospective donor with an offer. Without an offer the mailing dies.

When you contribute to Habitat for Humanity, for example, your $20 gift is buying a new door for an impoverished family. When you contribute to the American Red Cross, your $20 is buying emergency services for a family who has just lost their home in a fire.

A charity, instead of selling a product, must give you an opportunity to provide something for someone else instead of something for yourself.

Upfront premiums

Way back in the 1920s, charities started putting little trinkets in mailing packages and that continues to this very day. We all hate these trinkets. We wish we could do away with them. And, indeed, in certain cases we can – and when we are successful, we usually enrol a better donor with a higher average gift.

The weakness of the premium is that it doesn’t really ‘close’ the sale. Instead, it simply gets the donor’s attention. And, yes, it pressures the donor with a gentle obligation if the premium is used and no contribution is made.


Membership appeals allow me to ‘sell’ a relationship – and the membership card, and the membership benefits, and newsletters, and discounts, and on and on and on. The offer is quite tangible.

It’s a whole lot easier to create a package and invite people to become members, than create a package and invite people just to send a gift. Members feel a sense of belonging and are encouraged to both come and stay.

And then, if you have a membership structure in place, you can go out with a prospect package that offers membership at 50 per cent off for 12 months. Try it. You may like it.

(I strongly recommend you frequently test your offer. Test upfront premiums. Test offering back-end premiums – ‘As soon as I receive your gift, I’ll send you X.’ Test early bird premiums – ‘And if I receive your gift by X, I’ll send you X.’ If you don’t offer a membership programme, test the concept of an annual renewal of support mailing. And don’t forget to test the word ‘join’! G.C.)

© 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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