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The secret to direct mail success: ask, ask, ask ... and ask again

By Tom Ahern
October 29, 2019

Image by F. Muhammad on Pixabay

Adapted from If Only You’d Known ... You Would Have Raised So Much More

How often in a single appeal can you ask for a gift?

Once? Three or four times? The sky's the limit?

We have the answer thanks to Dr. Siegfried Vögele, the Albert Einstein of direct mail, says Jeff Brooks, author of The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications.

Professor Vögele, who died in 2014, uncovered how people actually read their mail.

Senders assume it's straightforward: the recipient opens the envelope, reads the contents, decides yes or no. Not even close, as I discuss in my new book, If Only You’d Known ... You Would Have Raised So Much More.

For instance, "Before your letter is read line by line, the recipient skims over the whole page in one cursory glance."

None of us knew that until Vögele observed the behavior in his Munich laboratory, as average people fumbled their way through commercial direct mail.

The professor also discovered that, during that initial cursory glance, certain things act as "eye magnets": bulleted lists, highlighted stuff, margin notes, art, photos, subheads, and other briefer items.

"Single words on a line stand out and draw attention to themselves," he reported. Single words like ... this.

So, again: thank you, Dr. Vögele.  An industry that relies heavily on direct mail for its financial health (as major-league fundraising does) owes you a lot. If there isn't yet a Vögele prize, there should be. It should be awarded each year to the research that overturns the biggest misconception.

Don't wait to ask

Where did we all learn to be so reticent about asking for help?

Each year, I see scores of fundraising appeals written by newbies. Many share a deadly habit: waiting to the end of the letter to make "the ask."

Don't wait to ask.

Ask early ... within the first few sentences.

Ask often ... in the middle, repeatedly ... and at the end, just before the signature.

Then ask again in the P.S.

And on the reply device.

And on the giving page of your charity's website.

Ask. Ask. Ask.

Again. Again. Again.

Why? Return to Siegfried Vögele's research.

People do not read your appeals in a linear fashion. Their eyes (Vögele discovered) flit like butterflies, seeking things of interest, whether that’s subheads, pull-quotes, indents, or photographs.

The single most important thing I have to tell you today about your direct mail appeals is: don't be shy, don't be confused, simply ask for help, and do so ... again and again and again.

Tags: Fundraising