Tutorial 39: writing letters to men, part 1

Very little has been written about fundraising techniques to reach men by direct mail.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 21, 2019

I suppose this is because women represent the greatest percentage of donors.

However, the largest donations often come from men.

Several years ago I started some research on the basic psychology of reaching men by direct mail. What I’ve learned has changed a lot of my previous ideas.

I believe that some charities have a logical, rational appeal and others have a more emotional appeal. Charities with a logical appeal often tend to attract more male donors and must be marketed differently from the emotion-oriented charity, which tends to attract more female donors.

Our job would be easy if we could plan on the rational donor being a man and the emotional donor being a woman. However, our society isn’t that simple, because a logical person is not necessarily male and an emotional person is not necessarily female. So, for the sake of discussion, let’s refer to ‘men’ in the general, popular context, realising that ‘male’ attributes are not confined to men, nor ‘female’ attributes confined to women.

Our next step is to learn how to use direct mail fundraising to reach the more ‘logical’ individual, whether male or female.

Enter the man’s world: nine research characteristics

1. Men will often absorb a sales appeal or a charity appeal faster than women. They are more prone to snap decisions. This is one reason a short letter often works better for men.

2. Men are usually more in a rut than women; they have difficulty shifting from one idea to another. They want to see the facts right up front.

3. Men are often less responsive to colour than women, they tend to like solid colours and to distrust shades. When the typical man says, ‘Give it to me in black and white’, that’s exactly what he means.

4. Men are often more mechanically inclined, simply because of the traditional male/female roles in our society.

So, if you are raising money for a well in Africa, men are often more interested in the power of the pump than the children who will drink the water. The man is really not unfeeling, but he often seeks to suppress – and therefore protect – his deeper

5. Most men are more inclined to want facts, not illustrations. Again, he is not devoid of emotion, but must carefully protect any obvious display of emotion. (We look at a little girl and say, ‘isn’t she sweet!’ We look at a little boy and say, ‘you are getting so big and strong!’)

6. Many men have a rather stereotypical image of themselves and a rather narrow interest span. Women have broader interests – in books, music, religion, the arts, etc.

7. Men like their decisions to be strongly rooted in facts and logic. Women are comfortable with feelings and intuition.

8. But strangely enough, men are comfortable dealing in generalities, while women want case histories, examples and specific incidents.

9. Men often have an easier sense of humour in certain situations than women – and you can successfully talk about deep issues to a man using a light touch, but humour usually fails with women.

Six personal opinions

I have some theories, largely unsupported by facts but nevertheless comforting to me when I write letters to men.

1. Men are usually slower to accept the new and untried until it has become firmly established. In other words, men are quite comfortable in a rut – safe – protected from rash, uncontrolled decisions and unbridled enthusiasm.

They tend to like letterheads, logos and layouts that remain the same mailing after mailing. However, you have to be careful and not always give them what they think they want, or your letters may become boring

2. Men take a strange pride in their habit patterns. So don’t expect a man to change his habits for you. Instead, fit your appeal into his patterns. In other words, as much as possible, without hurting the positive nature of your mailings, try to give him what
he perceives he wants.

3. Many men hate making small decisions. I’ve never seen any research on this point, it’s simply a theory I have.

4. Men need to be helped along as they read your letter. Women readers may get stirred up with the emotional issue and look for a solution. A man will often shield himself from the emotion and, as a result, he needs the encouragement of transitional
words, underlining and other techniques so that he continues to read. He likes the format broken up into orderly shape, leading from section to section.

5. Men usually seem to prefer a winner. Women will try a new idea – men are afraid of the unknown consequences, until the situation has been proved. Men like logical proof and testimonials.

6. Men think they’re busier than women. I believe that most men still equate being busy with being productive. Even when they read mail at home, they take pride in being the decision maker.

This means that if you don’t put your benefits and strongest appeal right up front, the man is never going to get involved and excited.

‘What’s this all about?’ he asks. Then, once that question is answered, he either gets interested, or says, ‘So, who cares?’

There is a theory that men are more relaxed at home, and therefore more susceptible to a fundraising appeal. I’m not sure. I think men function at home just about the same as they function at the office.

The main difference may be that at home the man opens and handles his own mail. In the office he often just sees the letter and enclosures clipped together.

What does a man really want?

1. He wants to be a hero! Man daydreams of conquest. He likes the idea of seeing his name in print – or on a memorial plaque in a hospital overseas.

2. A man wants to be ahead of the crowd – but without taking risks. He wants to be modern and progressive but, at the same time, rational and rooted in sensible decision making.

3. He wants proof. This way he can make a logical decision. He desperately needs to be responsible.

4. He wants to rationalise each action to himself, his wife and his boss. Obviously, all this indicates that men protect their emotion behind a shield of logic and rationale.

For our purpose, it doesn’t matter why men function in this manner. Just as it doesn’t matter why women cry at weddings.

All of which brings us to the technique every successful salesman uses: give a man a story to take home.

For example, a man rarely buys a car for logical reasons. He gets the fever, the sickness, the compulsion. The old car is a menace to his health.

Nothing cures this sickness except a new car. But the car salesman doesn’t try to sell him another car. Instead, the salesman gives him a story to take home to his wife: free tyres, the best radio on the market, luxurious floor mats, free fuel for 30 days.

All the logical decisions about trade-in values, mileage efficiency and depreciation screen the emotional factor: he has to have a story to take home.

This is often what you have to do in the fundraising letter. And strangely enough, men like certain premiums in the mail perhaps even more than women. A story to take home!

A successful fundraising letter to a man gives him a rational reason for making an emotional decision.

© 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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