How does your direct mail appeal letter stand up?

Is it cheating to write a blog post using someone else's words? [at end of post]

Not when you're a fundraising coach and that someone is Jerry Panas.

I've been following Jerry since 1992, the year I took his Seize the Opportunity course. I've watched him freely share his expertise generously with anyone who will listen [I've been listening for decades!], and I've emulated this by doing the same.

DIRECT MAIL APPEALS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER! I BELIEVE THE FUTURE OF THE NONPROFIT SECTOR RESTS, IN PART, ON THESE LETTERS.

Why? Because it is through the direct mail program that your best new friends [LLLDs-life-long loyal donors] will be identified! Acquiring and renewing donors, then RETAINING them is your holy grail activity. Losing donors is your DRAIN.

So many nonprofits still send out letters with statistics trying to impress people about 'how many' or 'how long' when all you need to do is say 'One.' "We turned this one person's story from My life is over to I am alive."

I've learned this from being devoted to Jerry Panas and Tom Ahern.

Statistics may offer an understanding of a problem, but they do not obtain gifts. Compelling stories about the work/mission is what grabs people at the beginning of your letter and takes them on a wild ride, breathlessly coming to the end wondering "HOW can I help/prevent this problem?"

LOOK AT YOUR LAST 4 DIRECT MAIL PIECES! DOES MY LAST SENTENCE DESCRIBE EACH OF THEM OR NO?

ANALYZE YOUR DIRECT MAIL RETURNS, EACH IN ISOLATION AND THEN IN PROGRESSION FROM ONE TO THE NEXT, HOW DID YOU DO? 

In direct mail, from the moment of conception to in-mail, there's one question to ask yourself: "Will this letter/piece/package move the reader to take action now, get online to make a gift or get their pen to write a check?"

Reread your last 4 direct mail packages, from opening the letter to reading it and filling in a response device or giving online, will the reader think to her/himself: "How can I look at myself in the mirror if I do nothing about this?"

Here's the blog post from Jerry that prompted my response:

An Idea from Jerold Panas in 50 seconds

Make It Compelling

You are about to read the first page of a superb appeal letter. It was one of a series of recent direct mail pieces from a medical center.

Read what follows. Tell me what you feel should be the lead paragraph. After you read it, I'll tell you what I think.

Dear friend:

Children and their parents shouldn't have to face the devastation of cancer and death. But they do.

Each year, hundreds of kids are diagnosed with leukemia and other forms of childhood cancer. While modern medicine often holds the disease in check, the specter of cancer hangs heavily over frightened children and concerned families.

But you can do something about it.

Courage Center, in cooperation with our medical center, has developed special programs for kids with cancer and their families. Families like the Daberkows from Lakefield . . .

Lance Daberkow was diagnosed with leukemia two days before Christmas. He was two years old.

"Lance was so sick that they flew us to the Twin Cities for immediate treatment," his mother June said. "His platelets were so low that his teeth bled through the night."

"When they told me that he had cancer, I didn't believe them. It took until New Year's Eve for me to accept it. I can remember that night because there were fireworks going off over the river and everyone was celebrating. I sat on Lance's bed and cried all night long."

Although Lance's prognosis was good, treatment required Lance and his mother to spend three months away from home in the hospital. While in the hospital, Lance's sister Kelli and . . .

It's an excellent letter. My own feeling, however, is that it should begin with the fifth paragraph-- "Lance Daberkow was . . . " Then on to the sixth. And the seventh. Then I would circle back to the opening paragraphs.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh paragraphs are the most compelling. What you want is to capture the reader in an embrace from which there is no escape.

(I give you permission to disagree. But only if you email me!)   Jerry