CPAR: plant a tree in Ethiopia’ mailing

Exhibited by
Bernard Ross.
May 22, 2014
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Environmental / animals
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
July, 1997

SOFII’s view

As far as we know, this was the first ever direct mail fundraising appeal in Ethiopia. Its story is a brilliant example not just of what can be achieved by some positive creative plagiarism, but also of how to explode the basic fallacy that is perhaps the most commonly held misconception among fundraisers everywhere – the one which has fundraisers saying, 'That's a great idea for your country, but it'll never work here.'

Creator / originator

Nadia Weber, with a little help from Bernard Ross.

Summary / objectives

To find out if direct mail could be used to raise funds effectively in Ethiopia.


Among the most unlikely of places on earth to find brilliant fundraising would surely be the beautiful but trouble-torn East African country of Ethiopia, home of many of the world's poorest people. But fundraising in Africa is developing fast and a few years ago a young woman of Italian descent called Nadia Weber, working for the Ethiopian branch of the nonprofit Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) and its plant-a-tree programme, attended a training workshop run by Bernard Ross. It was a lucky meeting for both as it gave Nadia an idea for innovative fundraising and gave Bernard what is undoubtedly one of the fundraising world's best case histories.

That day Bernard's agenda came to a premature close. In the half-hour that was left he decided to introduce his diverse audience to some of the basic principles of direct mail fundraising, more as general background than in the belief it would have practical application.

Nadia didn't say much but she had that rare ability to learn quickly from others. In particular, she took careful note of the samples of direct mail packages that Bernard showed. She thought if these can work in other countries, why not in Ethiopia, where the need is so great? And where despite the poverty there were some people who could help her cause (which is to fight the rampant deforestation currently ravaging Ethiopia's countryside).

Nadia took her notes and some sample packages back to her home in Addis Ababa where, with a little long-distance help from Bernard, she put together Ethiopia's first ever direct mail fundraising appeal. It was also an appeal package that any fundraising guru anywhere in the world would have been proud to have created.

Nadia prepared all the ingredients of a typical direct mail appeal – letter, leaflet, reply form, reply envelope. All were competent, colourful, and complete. So she had her letter, but who was there in Ethiopia, to send it to?

There are no commercial list brokers in Ethiopia and few, if any, lists to rent. Then, showing how enterprising a fundraiser can be, Nadia took the Addis Ababa telephone directory (a slim volume) and mailed 500 addresses from it as a test. Her reasoning was that if you owned a telephone in Addis, you were a prospect.

She (and her trustees) awaited response. Time passed. Responses came in, but not as many as she'd hoped (see results, below).

Special characteristics

Brilliant letter-writing skills (see below) blended with an ability to copy standard fundraising procedures very faithfully and effectively.

Influence / impact

This mailing has been used an example to inspire fundraisers around the world.


In his half-hour lightening tour of direct mail fundraising Bernard Ross had neglected to tell Nadia what levels of response to expect. That first mailing brought in a response of 40 per cent. But Nadia was devastated. What had happened to the other 60 per cent? Why hadn't they responded? Those of us who habitually struggle to achieve just one per cent in acquisition mailings can only gape in awe.


To succeed in this competitive world fundraisers need to be enterprising, imaginative, learned, skilful and courageous. In launching this mailing Nadia Weber showed all these attributes and more. She's set a fine example that all fundraisers should aspire to follow.

Other relevant information

The letter in this exhibit is a model of brilliant emotive writing. The opening paragraphs only are reproduced opposite. This is brilliant, evocative copy. The way she uses the word 'flounder' paints a perfect picture. Small wonder that it worked so well.

This exhibit for SOFII has been compiled from a description of this mailing which first appeared in The Zen of Fundraising, by Ken Burnett, published by Jossey-Bass Inc in association with The White Lion Press Limited.

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The vivid picture of need that Nadia creates in this letter is irresistible. Her choice of language – the use of words and phrases such as 'floundering in the forest’ – is charming and compelling. The whole package is a lesson in creative plagiarism – borrowing the best of others, then adding to it.
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Sorry about the fuzziness of this picture. If you can help SOFII to locate a better quality copy of this pack, please get in touch.