Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al: the pen pack

Exhibited by
May 01, 2017
Medium of Communication
Direct mail.
Target Audience
Individuals, regular gift.
Type of Charity
Human rights & civil liberties, social change.
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
October, 1995.

SOFII’s view

This is one of a handful of fundraising communications that really broke the mould. It’s famous because it was the first ever pen pack but it is much more than that. It’s a moving, intelligent and beautifully put together case to support one of the world’s great causes. The beauty of it is that everything is relevant and sincere. Nothing is gratuitous. This is the standard to which all direct mail writers and designers should aspire.

Summary / objectives

Donor acquisition.

Creator / originator

Concept and copy by Karin Weatherup at Burnett Associates Limited. Karin is co-author of Inspiring Annual Reports.


Amnesty needed a powerful and effective means of recruiting new donors to their great cause. This was it. Creator of the pack Karin Weatherup remembers a letter from the time that said, ‘This pack has saved Amnesty's bacon.’ It was probably no exaggeration.

Special characteristics:

For the first time a real free plastic pen was enclosed with a fundraising mailing in the UK.


This was, as far as we know, the first ever occasion when a free pen was included in an acquisition mailing, in the UK at least. So this was the pack that launched a fashion and a thousand (or more) rather inferior copies. But that doesn’t do this innovative and hugely effective pack justice. It is also a beautifully crafted, brilliant and passionately written piece of communication. It is fundraising direct communication as it should be.


So good that the pack was Amnesty UK’s banker for 10 years or more and was copied or adapted by many Amnesty International sections around the world. It is still in use by Amnesty Australia, I believe.


This mailing was both brilliantly successful and started a trend that led to a flood of imitators, most of which were vastly inferior copies.

Relevance, evidently, is the key word here.

To include a free pen or not quickly became a highly controversial question for fundraisers. From the donor’s perspective, though, it was clearly never a good idea. It’s patronising and gives an impression of wastefulness. Donors started to receive large numbers of these packs each with a gratuitous free pen, which almost certainly caused lasting damage to the image of charities.

In his blog on UK Fundraising, direct mail expert John Grain said,

'Apart from one memorable long-ago occasion for Amnesty International, it is naïve at best to think a donor would ever consider a pen to be an essential component of a well-executed piece of direct mail.' Not bad recognition after 15 years or more.

The logic behind these pens does seem rather dumb. A free gift may lead to temporary blip in initial response, but is it in any way a good reason to support a cause? We don’t think so. As fundraising is a long-term business, such a vacuous incentive is rather obviously not going to help charities find donors who will stick with the cause come what may.

But alongside an appropriate, intelligent and creative treatment such as Karin gave to this Amnesty pack, the inclusion of a pen was a masterstroke because it was so obviously and immediately relevant.

See also survey packs. Anyone with more information on this pack or who can send SOFII a better quality image of it, please get in touch.

SOFII’s I Wish I’d Thought Of That 2012 – no. 1 Alan Clayton presents Amnesty International.