Friday, 3 January 2014

How not to do it: A lesson in Direct Mail

I've been on the receiving end of a charity's efforts, and it hasn't ended well. In fact, a charity with which I have a great deal of affection has upset me. Not only have they written to me with a string of appalling DMs (for which there is surely no excuse) but this must mean that there is no way they are raising the amounts they should be for their great work.

I will keep this all anonymous, and I tell this story only so others learn from how not to do it.

  1. Send me an appeal, asking me to make a gift as I did last year. Include a bullet point list of what my money has been spent on. Make it as dull as dishwater. Include no stories of the people I have helped. Make me feel like my money has gone into a big black hole.

  1. Two weeks later send me another letter, not referencing the last and asking me to support a different area of your work. Do not reference that I have ever supported your charity. Give absolutely no case for support. Tell me I will be ‘helping change the world’ but give zero specifics.

  1. I should now add, that because I have a great deal of affection I did make a token gift to the first appeal. So now, the thank you letter arrives. A final chance to redeem themselves. Alas, they send me a thank you letter that looks uncannily like an invoice. Where there is text it talks about the great charity I have supported. ‘Your support for our wonderful < charity name> is greatly appreciated.’ ‘<charity name> is at the forefront of x y and z.’ Finally, print my reference number as big as my name and make no attempt to make it look like a real signature.

So, there we have it. A very unhappy donor you have before you.

So what can we learn from this sorry tale about  our own appeals?

Well firstly, donors have feelings too

Secondly, as donors we like to be reminded that we've done a good thing. Tell us not just that ‘our gift made a difference’ for we want to know to who, and how. 

We like stories, not stats. 

We do not like receiving a letter designed for someone who has never supported your work. Reference our gift.

 Remind us that you know who we are. We should not feel like a number on your database.

As the donor we should be the hero. You are a great charity yes, but only because of the support of donors like me.

Finally, there really is no excuse for not printing the signature in blue ink. 




  1. Whatever happened to just sending a Thank You card for the donation without any expectations of getting more money? Organizations really fail at this. The only time donors get a message is when they are asked to open their wallet. So sad.

  2. thanks Jodi. Personally I don't mind being asked gently again if I get a really good report on how my money has been spent... but yes - if we don't feel thanked and valued, we probably won't open our wallet again.

  3. oh Rachel,

    THat SUCKS!

    I have a dilemna coming up right now... wondering if you can give me advice on this. I have had a lot of wonderful buyers (think of them as donors!) in the past year. I want to send them all thank you notes. So I picked out people who had given more than once, and sent personalized notes. Then I picked out people who had given larger amounts, and sent them personalized notes. Now I have EVERYONE ELSE who gave. And I want to send them something, but putting an address label on a letter plus just signing it doesn't seem... personal enough. And I will get a serious hand-cramp if I don't do it this way! Any suggestions?


  4. Hmmm. I think that donors who have given a small amount don't expect the world - they just expect something relevant to them. Could you physically sign the letter - with actual pen ink? I know that makes a big difference to me. Write over the text to make sure it's REALLY obvious that a real person signed it...!

  5. Mazarine,

    Another option: include a personalized P.S. along with your wet-ink signature. It will still take some time but nothing like 100% handwritten notes would.


  6. I still believe that it is important to say "thank you" without expecting money in return. It is best if the donors will feel appreciated of the things they've done to help.