Developing Effective Direct Mailing Pack

Mike Huntsinger

Before going into the separate parts of the package – the carrier envelope, the brochure, the reply device, and the letter – I want to say a few words about the importance of thinking in a package concept.

The most productive direct mail packages are built around a central theme, and every element in the package works together, promoting, interpreting, looking at the theme from several angles.

After you select a central theme, there are many other ways you can tie the package together. For example, an effective method is by the use of a picture. You can put a teaser line on the carrier envelope, the picture on the letter, a larger picture on the brochure, and a small picture on the reply card or reply envelope.

Also, you can tie the package together by writing your letter in such a way that the reader is motivated to study the material in the brochure. You can begin a story, then not finish it in the letter, but refer the reader to the brochure. Color is another way of tying the package together, either by the use of contrasting colors, or a unifying color tone that is carried through on all the elements.

Tying the package together is more important for mass mailings to rental lists than your own church lists. For the mass mailings the unified approach is probably the only type of package that will be productive for you. For your church list you may want to use two or three packages a year built around a central theme – probably in November and January, and other highly productive fund raising months. If you have an 8 or 12 time mailing cycle (e.g. Christian School, Radio Ministry, etc.), you may not have the time to create such a package each month, but will need to order carrier envelopes and reply devices well in advance, probably using the same style envelope in most of the mailings.



This piece has several basic elements – postage, an address, plain or window, corner cut, and may or may not have teaser copy.


Most of your mailings will be at the non-profit rate. Here you have a choice between a printed indicia on the upper right hand corner or a non-profit meter indicia. The metering will cost you about $1.50 per thousand more than the printed indicia… but I think it is often worth the extra cost. At first glance, the non-profit meter imprint looks like a first-class imprint, and the reader gives the mailing his attention.

When you use first-class postage, the stamp outpulls the meter, and a commemorative stamp is best of all. Again, this will cost you about $1.50 extra for the work, but the returns make it worthwhile.

When you do use first-class postage and meter it, you should print envelopes with bold type saying “First Class Mail”. If you are going to the expense of mailing first-class, you want the reader to be aware of that fact, immediately.

There is always the question of whether to use first-class or non-profit postage. I can give you a few general
rules, and then you will have to test for yourself.

Mailings to rental lists will probably always be nonprofit. You simply can’t afford the cost of first-class, and
besides, Uncle Sam has made a gift of this special low cost, and you might as well take advantage of it.

Also, you will probably use non-profit on your regular donors, especially if you are a major organization. Again, it is a matter of cost.

A. Postage, Cont’d

You will want to use first-class on your large and VIP donors. About the only time these folks receive non-profit material is when you send a newsletter or a magazine type publication as a self mailer.

Many organizations find they increase returns from active donors by using first-class mail, even though the letter is mass produced. You will need to test this factor for yourself. If you have a list of only two or three thousand active donors you might well use first-class postage during the productive months.

But you can develop data for decision making by testing. Simply divide your list on an every other one basis, and make a two-way test.

Many organizations, large and small, have found that first-class postage pays well during November and December, especially as you get close to the Christmas card season. Of course, first-class mail moves faster when the post office is congested, and some associate Christmas cards and first-class mail. This is the time to use a small size envelope and a commemorative stamp.


The most common carrier envelope is the standard #10 size. This takes a standard 8@ x 11 sheet folded twice and a standard size brochure. So probably the #10 will be the envelope you will need to make friends with.

Many times, though, you may wish to have a change of pace by using a different size envelope. The monarch size is a bit more distinguished than the #10, and lends itself to hand typing and first-class postage.

You would rarely want to go larger than a #10 for many reasons. The cost would be a major factor, and if the envelope is a large size it will probably arrive in the mail box dog-eared and frayed, unless you use a heavy, durable stock, which, again, is expensive.

Also, an over-size envelope gives the receiver the distinct feeling that advertising matter is enclosed.

There will be times when you may want to mail a 9 x 10 envelope with the materials flat instead of folded. Usually this would go to special donors, and probably never to rental lists.

Psychologically, your change of pace should be from a #10 to smaller size. As the size decreases, you give the reader the sense of special treatment. The reason may be that personal stationery, invitations, government checks, etc…. all use envelopes smaller than #10.

For now, let’s discuss the basic #10 envelope, with the understanding that most of the principles involved can be applied to the smaller sizes, also.


There are several ways to address your envelope: directly on the envelope, with a label, a plate, heat transfer, or direct typing. Of course, direct typing is the most personalized, and also the most expensive.

Many tests have been carried out between labels, heat transfer, and plates. The results seem to indicate that the method of addressing isn’t too important, as long as the address is neat, easy to read, affixed straight, the plate delivering has even flow of ink, the label affixed firmly without corners sticking up.

Also, tests have been made indicating a flip of the coin between direct addressing and the use of the address on the reply device showing through a window on the #10 envelope.


The corner cut is usually on the upper left hand side, with the style of type matching the letterhead. Be careful that you don’t make this corner cut too fancy, or bold. You still want to communicate the feeling that the letter is personal, not an advertising piece.

I have a suspicion that the reader doesn’t pay too much attention to the corner cut. The eye is more drawn to the addressing, the type of postage, and the teaser copy when it is used.


You have to be careful with teaser copy… Often you can trick a person into opening the envelope; then he finds that what you hinted at the teaser is an overstatement, and he feels cheated. Be sure that the teaser copy relates directly to the contents. Teaser copy is more important in rental mailings, where you run the danger of not getting the letter opened, and must use a bit of psychological high pressure. For your own donors, you don’t have to worry about getting the letter opened.

Probably you are on the safe side if you stay away from hard-selling copy on the envelope, and stick to a rather plain format. Here again, you are dealing with the problem that people have an idea what a fund raising envelope should look like, and if you are too promotional, they turn you off.


Charity organizations have always put a lot of faith in newsletters and self-mailers. I suppose this has been true for several reasons. Non-profit postage has made it attractive to mail newsletters. A self-mailer is a simple piece to produce, address and mail.

But perhaps an even deeper reason is that organizational executives have thought that the average donor has an interest in the organizational gossip, board meetings, policies, honors and awards, institutional small talk.

This may have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but today, the evidence shows that newsletters are a weak fund raising technique. Organizations who have discontinued their newsletter entirely, in favor of a mailing campaign, have increased their income.

I mentioned this decreasing use of the newsletter to explain why I’m only going to discuss the creation of a brochure – not a newsletter. Even if an organization retains a newsletter, the techniques of designing a brochure apply, rather than those of a newsletter.

The secret of a brochure is in the layout – not the copy. This obviously is the weakness of a newsletter – it is copy oriented.

You can contrast the letter and the brochure. The letter is oriented, even though it may have one or more
pictures. The brochure is layout oriented.

In another section there will be a discussion of art vs. photography. All I want to say here is that the brochure depends on photography. Art has little place. Layout is all important, to insure that the pictures are displayed to best advantage.

The type of brochure you use will depend on your mailing theme, and the materials you have available. Probably the most economical size is anything that folds down to fit a #10 envelope. You can run your picture and copy in columns, or you can use a tabloid layout. Again, the format will be determined by your materials, and the appeal of your pictures.

At times, you can combine a letter and a brochure by using a double 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, and printing the letter on the front page. If you do this, make sure you use a typewriter face for the letter part, and a familiar book or newspaper type face for the brochures.

Now let me mention a few of the elements that go into a brochure:


Follow the same rules as apply to newspaper headlines; wide, big, clean, well-spaced characters.


A good brochure uses a technique that is not generally used in newspapers – a double headline. Break up your copy; seldom use more than three paragraphs of copy without a sub-headline.


For the central theme of the brochure – or at least the lead article. This should be a picture of people relating to people, a visual example of what your organization is doing.


Keep it short. Remember that a good brochure is laid out – not written.


The brochure should expand, or dramatize, the theme of the appeal letter. Usually, the brochure is created before the letter.


Generally, the cost makes a four color brochure out of the question – so that means you probably will be using black and white and one color. Choose the additional color with great care, but keep the pictures black and white. How many people do you know who have green faces, or blue arms, or a red tinted
chin? The one major exception is the use of an orange duotone, which gives flesh-like warmth.

Finally, make sure that your appeal is restated in the brochure – and the reader reminded to use the reply device.


Basically there are two common types of reply devices in fund raising:

1. The wallet flap envelope.

2. The standard flap envelope with a card for the donor to use in indicating the amount of his gift.

You are safe in using either one of these devices. The important thing is to give the donor a feeling of security when he encloses his check. That is why on the wallet flap there is a place for him to write his name, and indicate the amount of the gift. Then he folds the flap over, and the check is securely sealed.

If you use a reply card and a standard reply envelope, the card enclosed with his check adds body to the envelope, thus serving to protect his check. (You would rarely use a reply card, since you must provide a way for the donor to send money.)

You can address on either the reply card or the wallet flap envelope, or of course, on the #10. The advantage of addressing on the reply device is that it gives your clerks the proper address, as that address appears in your files.


A. Make sure it fits into the carrier envelope!
B. Make it attractive – Incorporate artwork, etc.
c. Who Pays?
1. Consider using business reply
2. If not, be careful of the wording:


Color is a dangerous tool, and the best rule to follow is simple: If you aren’t sure of how to use color, then stick to glorious black and white.

There are many hidden factors involved in color. You have to disregard your personal color prejudices, and you have to understand how various colors affect response – and why.

We can begin with some generalities: Bright colors get more attention than soften tones. Red and orange have the highest visibility and attention-getting power. Warm colors seem to be retreating.

Psychological tests indicate that the red end of the spectrum has the highest attention value, with yellow nest. Our friend, the very late Sir Isaac Newton, discovered several hundred years ago what happens as light passes through a prism.

It breaks up into the spectral colors in this order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. And in human perception, the lens of the eye acts like a prism. In short, red is the easiest to see, it takes less effort than any other color. This makes it appear closer than other colors, and psychologically, closeness and attention are related. We pay more attention to those objects nearest to us.

Of course, we can’t print everything in red, because the experience would be too intense, and the reader would simply turn off by looking the other direction. So we have to achieve color balance. It’s like a conversation. Black and white are the monotones, and colors are the higher pitches. So too much red is
like shouting at the person across the table.

Legibility and color have to be considered. Color can improve the legibility, break up the boredom of black and white, and, of course, be used to shout now and then.

Psychological tests indicate the following rankings – strictly as to legibility alone. I’m not recommending these combinations, I’m just saying they rank from the highest to the lowest:

1. Black on yellow paper 8. White on orange paper

2. Green on white paper 9. White on black paper

3. Blue on white paper 10. Red on yellow paper

4. White on blue paper 11. Green on red paper

5. Black on white paper 12. Red on green paper

6. Yellow on black paper

7. White on red paper

Usually you are safe to use black ink on colored stock. Sans-serif type faces are most effective in color, but in black and white they are often hard to read because of the light absorption of the large black masses of type.

Atmosphere and color are closely related. We are all such prisoners of our emotions, that color always reminds us of a past experience. And this is what makes color so dangerous in fund raising…or any other kind of marketing. For example, red and pink are related. They show warmth, excitement, action, and they also show danger and anger. The complementary color is green.

Yellow is cheerful, positive, and it is also dishonest and sensational. The complementary color is purple or blue.

Blue is cool, serene, and also depressing and melancholic. The complementary color is yellow and orange.

Green is young, cool if it is light, and also envious, immature. The complementary color is red or pink.

In our society we also react to color by location… firm, positive colors relate to out-of-doors. Pastels are for the bathroom, browns for fall, red and green for Christmas.

Women… the key to fund raising… become almost violent in their dislike for certain pastels. So pastels are too dangerous to even consider, except in rare circumstances.

Also, red underlining, and headlines are closely associated with high-pressure mail order. Some tests show that the addition of red in a non-profit letter may actually decrease the returns.

Color is important for your response device. Make the reply card and envelope a contrasting color, so they stand out, and demand attention. Colored stock is often better than colored ink. If your letter and brochure are in black and white, try a red reply envelope. This is where action is appropriate, and the reader won’t resent the color.


Many times art and photography are confused in preparing fund raising materials. The purpose of this article is not to criticize art, but simply to point out the fact that art has little place in fund raising. Art is recessive, an interpretation of life, not real life. That’s what make art endure through the centuries. It is timeless.

Photography, on the other hand, is a moment of real life, caught in the act, and this is what the American public wants. Do you see much art in popular magazines? No, the mass is suspicious of art, because usually they can’t understand it. They believe what they see, distrust aesthetics. And when art is accepted, it is not judged primarily on the basis of its inherent beauty, but rather on its accuracy for conveying realistic details. A good example of this is Norman Rockwell’s work.