The b direct logo Hive

Mailbox Monday


The holidays are known as the season of giving. But, they're also the season of getting — getting direct mail solicitations from non-profits, to be specific. In just a couple of weeks, one of the Bs received 22 different packages looking for a year-end donation.

Here are the organizations that reached out to him: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Alzheimer's Association; WGBH; Special Olympics Massachusetts; The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism; The Salvation Army; USO; URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps; UMass Amherst; The Greater Boston Food Bank; Rosie's Place; Boston Children's Hospital; International Fellowship of Christians and Jews; The Archaeological Conservancy; Boston Rescue Mission; Pine Street Inn; St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston; Shriners Hospitals for Children; SmileTrain; American Red Cross; American Lung Association ...

And a partridge in a pear tree.

Wow. Besides giving the mail carrier a workout (as if they need one during catalog season), this impressive assortment gave us lots to think about as direct marketers. 

Let's start at the beginning. Outer envelopes ranged from an intimate 4"x6" for Boston Rescue Mission to an 8"x11" (on card stock with a 4-color image of Santa feeding a reindeer) for American Lung Association. St. Jude and the Salvation Army also played up the Christmas season with red envelopes. There were a handful that took an affinity approach: UMass asserting that "We succeed together," and American Red Cross teasing that the B's "Red Cross Supporter Card is enclosed." Two unashamedly pulled at heart strings with images of children (The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and SmileTrain). Several used copy teasers to suggest what a donation might achieve ("Sponsor a Thanksgiving Feast;" "Help a person with autism receive life changing support services;" and "Keep the promise of public media alive and well!") And, surprisingly, there were a couple that used a stealth approach with blind envelopes, something we haven't done at B Direct since before the anthrax scare of 2001. (We'd love to know whether that worked for Rosie's Place or not.)

Eleven of the pieces (exactly 50%, in fact) used stamps rather than indicias or meters. The most interesting was the USO, which used three separate stamps (a 3-cent and two 1-cent), giving the allusion of personal mail.

Inside, the packages utilized tried-and-true direct mail techniques: personalized letters, "handwritten" Johnson boxes, sidebars, P.S.s, pre-populated response slips and BREs. The Archaeological Conservancy added a "news clipping," a smart and cost-efficient enclosure. Salvation Army and Pine Street Inn included brochures that looked like Christmas cards. Shriners Hospitals included a full-color, 4-page newsletter. UMass, on the other hand, sent a more traditional brochure, but filled it with infographics and quick bites of information, rather than running text.

Nearly half the packages were straightforward, comprising just letters and response vehicles. Although less glitzy than the pieces mentioned above, they were tremendously well written. (It often seems like some of the best copywriters in our business work in the non-profit sector. And little wonder with the emotional content they get to work with.) Surprisingly, only one of these letter packages had a lift note. Boys & Girls Clubs of America included a compelling message from an alum, who credits the organization with giving him "access to a better life."

Last but not least, six of the packages featured "freemium" items for motivation. (Yes, a little guilt can go a long way.) Both St. Jude and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society included personalized return address labels. USO tipped a "Call Home Free Card" onto their letter, dramatizing an important benefit they offer to servicemen and women. SmileTrain sent a 22"x32" world map. Boston Children's Hospital included (adorable) "trading cards" of the service animals who help their patients heal. And American Lung Association (in that oversized package we mentioned above) pulled out all the holiday stops with a gift bag, stickers, eight greeting cards, and a pen.

At B Direct, we support clients across a variety of industries. These days, most of our work is in higher education, retail, and, especially, B2B technology. That said, however, some of the most successful campaigns we've done have borrowed ideas from other industries.

These non-profit packages have given us a lot of food for thought. 

Not to mention personalized address labels.

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