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Boost Response Rates and Income with Appealing Fundraising Letter Envelopes

by Alan Sharpe

Writing a terrific fundraising letter is a waste of time if your donor throws your entire package in the trash unopened. And that happens more often than any of us dare to think about. That's why your envelope is so crucial to your success.

Your envelope serves two functions and two alone. It must:

  • deliver your appeal to your donor
  • persuade your donor to open and read your package

Getting your appeal into the hands of your donor is not hard if you mail to a good list, either your own house list or a rented list of quality prospects. But persuading your donors to actually open your envelope and read your appeal--and respond to it with a gift--that's the difficult part.

Your envelope faces a number of challenges.

Your donors are busy
Like you, your donors are busy. They are preoccupied with meeting their sales quotas, finding a good paediatrician, fixing the leak in the roof, spoiling their grandkids, finishing college with an A average, buying a more reliable vehicle, meeting their deadline, meeting their life partner, and making ends meet. In the middle of their busy life, your fundraising appeal drops through the mailbox. Should they open it, lay it aside for later, or chuck it? Your envelope will likely decide which.

Competition from other charities
If your donors are typical, they receive solicitations from other non-profit organizations each week. Your envelope will likely be one among many. How will you stand out? How will you persuade your donor or prospective donor (or former donor) to open your envelope first--if at all? Your envelope is your first chance, maybe your only chance.

Competition from other mail
Your package is also competing with electricity bills, bank statements, pizza flyers, credit card statements, personal letters, credit card offers and junk mail. Your reader will open these pieces of mail in a particular order, starting with the most pressing. The size, shape, weight and look of your envelope will determine if it gets opened or not.

Competition from other media
You are also competing with door-to-door fundraisers. And telephone canvassers. And telethons (television fundraisers). Not to mention the evening news, sitcoms, today's newspaper, and a literal host of radio shows and satellite TV channels. How can you get your fundraising appeal letter package to break through this noise and reach your donor? You need to start with your envelope.

The benefits of getting your appeal letters opened and read are tremendous:

  • you will likely immediately boost your response rate, since more donors will read your appeal and respond with a gift, all other things being equal
  • you will increase your gift income, since higher response rates mean more gifts
  • you will reduce your cost to raise a gift, because the increase in revenue will offset your mailing costs
  • you will improve your renewal rates, since more of your first-time donors will open, read and respond to your subsequent appeals
  • you will reduce your attrition rates, because you will keep more donors engaged and interested in your cause

None of these benefits will be yours unless your donors open your envelopes. That's where the battle for your donor's head and heart begins. Don't lose the battle there. Create envelopes that are simply irresistible. Here are some tips.

Oversize Window
If you are mailing a premium, have it appear through an oversize window.

Unusual or Unexpected Dimensions
Switch from a #10 window to something larger or smaller.

Unique Addressing
Address the letter by hand.

Use Every Inch Available
Put a dramatic photo on your envelope that stretches from one side right across to the other.

Tease the Donor Inside
Ask a question or pose a riddle that is answered inside.

Multiple Windows
Put another window on the envelope and have something interesting show through from the inside.

Don't Use an Envelope
Mail your letter in a box, a cylinder or something else that stands out.

Use a commemorative stamp.

Lumpy Mail
Put something three-dimensional, like a wrist band, in the envelope.

Put the Donor on the Envelope
Put a message to the donor on the front or back, using their first name.

Add a Personal Touch
Hand-write a note.

The possibilities for creative and compelling envelopes are limited only by your imagination (and your budget, of course!). Strive to create the most irresistible envelopes you can, with every package you mail, and you will be rewarded with higher response rates and higher income.

2006 Sharpe Copy Inc. Reprinted with permission


About the Author: Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor, coach, author and newsletter publisher who helps non-profit organizations to raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using cost-effective, compelling, creative fundraising letters. Sign up for free weekly tips like this at
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