Crafting a compelling direct appeal letter is all about timing, tone, and attention to detail. Take your basic Letter to Santa. Sure, you could crank it out on mom’s PC to show St. Nick how clever you are (and, therefore, worthy of his attention) by:
- Ramping your wish list up visually with your fave font, and
- Liberally using font size 36 for emphasis.
But wouldn’t you rather sign Johnny or Janie Doe to a carefully designed, perfectly executed missive on that special toy you covet? Wouldn’t you love to wow Santa with a heartfelt handwritten plea that will not only grab his attention, but also hold it captive? If you desperately need your letter to stand out among the hundreds of thousands delivered to the North Pole every year, apply these three tenets of successful direct appeal letters to your crucial mailing to Kris Kringle: Timing After scrutinizing success rates for bulk mailings, players in the world of fundraising have learned that November, September, and February stand out as the months that garner the highest response rates. Now, a letter to the Big SC mailed in September might strike him as a tad overzealous, maybe even inappropriate. But correspondence in late November (the winningest month)—perhaps timed to arrive on the Monday after Thanksgiving—would no doubt earn points for preparedness, aptitude, and self-discipline. These are all qualities that potential donors value, even Santa, so try to get your letter in the mail before Turkey Day, allowing time for travel to the furthermost reaches of the earth. Tone Finessing the tone of your direct appeal letter calls for tapping into your creative juices. Select words that illustrate your smarts (and hence merit), but avoid those so lofty that even an educated elf can’t follow their drift. Hone your message into a single, powerful sentence. This is known in direct mailing circles as the “call to action.” Action! Can’t you just hear the happy hum of Santa’s workshop? Choose language to express your excitement, such as in this sample sentence: “When I see a Roboraptor, my pulse quickens and my life has new meaning.” Include bullet lists or check boxes for easy reference to your wants and needs. (Such lists are designed to catch readers known as “skimmers.” This is most applicable to mailers who wait until the last minute, when Santa is losing focus and is no longer moved by those aforementioned heartfelt calls to action). Be sure to include a postscript after your signature, as studies have shown the P.S. is one of the two most read parts of any direct appeal letter (after the first sentence — a.k.a. the call to action). Skimmers typically jump right to the P.S., so be sure to highlight here the one gift that would make your Christmas morning the joy-filled toy-fest you envision. Attention to Detail Check—and then double-check—that every word is spelled correctly. (Letters with misspelled words go straight to the “Socks and Underwear” gift area.) Seeing as Santa is known for checking his list twice, this is not too much to ask. Art is also a nice touch to any letter, particularly when you take the time to color in. Tracing is allowed, but original drawings are more effective. Finally, be sure to choose a festive holiday stamp for that special finishing touch. But choose with care. Letters to Santa with Hanukkah stamps, for example, send a mixed message and, worse, could raise eyebrows in regards to the issue of double dipping…. Happy Holidays! PS: Word on the street is that Santa does not approve of letters that are texted, emailed, or Twittered. But if you’re good, he might friend you on Facebook.