We are often asked about the various formulas, techniques, and general rules of direct mail copywriting. Certainly, none are written in the proverbial stone, but one that I’ve found effective over the years is something I call “the Roller Coaster approach.” When I’m editing my own work I make sure to adhere to the following concept.
The Direct Mail Climb
Most of the direct mail donor acquisition appeals I’ve penned over the years begin with a provocative question on a topic we know to be of interest to the reader. For example, given current events, I might begin a letter, “What do you think of Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine?”
Nearly everyone has an opinion on the subject and our reader is intrigued by the query. From there we remind them of the atrocities and events leading up to today. We stoke the flames of anger to the point where the reader feels moved to act in a way that we desire. Generally, that might include a petition that is collected to present to Congress or the President. This is the upward trek on our roller coaster.
The Direct Mail Descent
After the reader is reminded of the present public policy problem, we present them with a solution. On the downward and more relieving part of the ride of the direct mail roller coaster, we present the solution in detail. That solution is, obviously, the group or individual making the appeal and the important educational and/or lobbying work they do. At the bottom of the hill, we learn there is another disturbing and stressful reality.
The Solution – Like the Direct Mail Roller Coaster – Is Uphill
Going up, we convey to the reader that the challenge to implementing the solution or solutions is enormous. We’re up against powerful opposition from progressives, Marxists, and garden variety liberals. They have the power of the media and big government on their side.
They also have billionaire backers advancing their agenda providing the contributions our foes have and we don’t. The message is simple: we need funding! We are, after all, a non-profit and independent of government and often corporate or foundation support.
The stress relief comes on our second time down the hill. We present the details about the need for funding at various levels and offer a proposal for immediate action.
Often a specific budget is given and broken down to manageable levels so that the $100 or $500 donor can relate to the significance of their gift. The copy might say, “Your generous gift of $500 can pay for the purchase of 200 yard signs in support of our campaign.”
And Just When You Thought It Was Over…
But wait, there’s more. Time to climb a third time wherein we reiterate the challenges ahead with new details and examples. We share news from favorable media sources and, perhaps, an appeal from a third-party advocate such as an elected official or an academic. Each sharing the consequences of immediate inaction. We can’t wait for relief, but it will come along as we share how our group will advance our cause. And while we have immediate needs for some level of funding, there is a long-term solution.
Our copy offers a vision and plan for success and hope for now and future generations. The donor will experience great satisfaction as they write that check or provide for a gift with a credit or debit card. Of course, there will also be perpetual satisfaction if they pledge to make a monthly gift. And, finally, if they include our group in their estate plans, a bequest provides for eternal benefits in the afterlife.
Sure, this is a bit simplistic. Fundamentally, however, you’ll find that these principles in the copy are timeless and generally effective.
Do you have comments, suggestions or questions for us to address? Shoot us an email and we’ll be sure to respond.
Robert Stuber is a retired Senior Vice President of ClearWord and copywriting expert with four decades in non-profit fundraising.