How to make your direct mail appeals work harder.

direct mail appealsFrank Chamberlin has crafted hundreds of appeal letters for dozens of charities. With all that experience, you might expect he’d be able to reel off a few rules for making your direct mail appeals work harder.

Here are his top 15.

1. Your first objective must be to gain the reader’s attention. Use plain English and short sentences.

2. Write as though you are speaking to an individual. Make it personal and heart-warming.

3. A good case study is your best friend here. Make sure you present it with emotion and real feeling. A sad theme that becomes a positive story can work very well.

4. Point out what the donor’s gift will achieve. Most people like to get value when they spend their ‘hard-earned,’ so equally, when they give to a charity, they like to know what their donation will do.

5. Focus more on your donor and be sure to use the word ‘you’ multiple times.

6. The letter needs to highlight how your program or organisation will help readers achieve their goals, solve a problem for them, meet their needs, alleviate their fears, or make their dreams come true.

7. The appeal letter should concentrate totally on one thing: raising money. The ‘ask’ should appear in different formats a number of times. Don’t confuse the communication by mixing it up with different things such as an update or annual report.

8. At least once in the text, the ask amount should be specifically mentioned. ‘Will you please send $100 now for urgently needed text books for this school year.’

9. If you are writing to people who have made a donation in the past, be sure to thank them. But the thanks need to be sincere. “Thank you for opening your heart to the plight of our homeless friends. It is only with your support that we can turn things around for them.” “I am so heartened by the generosity of people like you. Thank you for showing how much you care.”

10. In keeping the text personal and conversational, use the reader’s name occasionally through the letter. It is also a good idea to use contractions as they are less formal – don’t, won’t, you’ll. “We don’t want to see these children missing out and I’m sure you don’t either.”

11. Do whatever you can to create a sense of urgency. But only if it is real. Ask that the gift be sent ‘today’ and give a deadline where appropriate.

12. Where your organisation qualifies for tax deductibility, be sure to remind donors they can get a tax deduction for the amount they give.

13. Provide step-by-step instructions. It may seem obvious to you, but some people need to be told. ‘Please fill in the simple Reply Form, then insert it in the reply envelope, and mail it to us without delay. Thank you’.

14. Wherever possible, give reply options. But not too many. Reply by mail, phone or online is probably ideal. Where phone is an option, give the number on every page.

15. A PS is essential and it should restate your main proposition and include a very clear ask.


Good luck with your direct mail appeals.


Frank Chamberlin is the founder of writing consultancy Action Words and been a freelance copywriter for more than 20 years.

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