Word selection in nonprofit communications can boost response

September 9, 2014       Herschell Gordon Lewis      

Hi, there!

Are you starting a communication with that type of breezy greeting? Please agree that any greeting other than “Yo” or “Ugh” might beat the ancient snorer “Dear Friend” in delivering valid responses. As promised in the past column, some battle-lines will be drawn separating the traditionalists from the dynamos.

We all know that in every facet of civilized life, tradition carries with it a key element: safety. “We’ve always done it this way” sidesteps the twin 21st century dangers — show-off and flashiness.

Tradition is a thin competitive base. If tradition were an aggressive factor in establishing or maintaining market share, automobiles wouldn’t accelerate beyond 15 miles an hour, frozen foods would be an impossible dream, and email, if it existed at all, would begin its messages with “Dear Friend.”

Progress includes increasing not just the number of donors but the number of prospects and existing donors who don’t begin to fade even as they begin to read (if they read).

Add another element, please: intelligent human psychology. They’re neither dear nor friends.

How do you say, “Hello?” Skipping super-close friends and relatives from the promotional mix, you might say “Good morning.” OK, test that one in your direct mail. If you’ve been using “Dear Friend” in email, test “Good morning” in that medium as well. An example of the breadth that opens to you:

Good morning.

And you’ll have a really good morning if you….

Suggesting belated recognition of an old friend also adds effectiveness beyond the dispassionate “Dear Friend.” Here’s a sample: “I’ve been wondering, just as you may be wondering….”

A version of this approach, one that often brings better response but isn’t a totally dependable criterion, transfers the name to the end of the greeting: I’ve been wondering, Sample….” If you test, you will have a happy or unhappy surprise to discover that shifting personalization to or from a first-word position can have a profound effect on response.

Who says you need a formal greeting? In an era in which direct mail is under the gun – naysayers claiming that DM has seen its day and can’t compete with more contemporaneous means of communication – testing has become a major factor.

One logical test avoids the greeting altogether. Personalization begins with a one-to-one demand for attention: “If you’re like I am, Ms. Extralongname….”

Or, if you want to propose an even tighter tie, it’s first name to first name: “If you’re like I am, Sample….”

From that point, the message has to carry itself, but the non-greeting greeting has carried the recipient into the text. The non-greeting greeting has an implicit advantage compared to any formalized greeting. That advantage is assumption of rapport, and the dynamic communicator might intensify the assumed relationship through an immediate imperative built into the greeting, such as: “Take a look at this, Sample.” Or: “You have my admiration, Sample, and here’s why.”

Your lettershop might not have the capability of personalizing the greeting. So what? With or without total personalization the technique still is worth testing, with the potential of a happy result. Without the recipient’s name, you might find your opening has an even greater impact than the same communication headed by a formal greeting: “Take a look at this.” Or… “You have my admiration, and here’s why.”


Setting up the attitude

An envelope “teaser” can improve response through two separate attention-grabbers. One device, overlooked by creative teams that seal themselves in the overcoat of formality, is to begin the letter on the face of the carrier envelope.

Suppose, for example, your letter begins: “Right outside your window, right now, a bright-colored bird is singing.” On the envelope, at lower left in a typewriter font, is the teaser: Right outside your window, right now, a bright (continued inside)

A quick word to the creative team spawned after the Internet era took hold: Every nonprofit practitioner knows direct mail is more expensive than web marketing. That’s a factor to consider. And while you’re considering, consider that a custom-tailored garment will fit better and project a greater aura of affluence than a suit off the rack.

Dollars in versus dollars out, matched with lifetime value, can be a more effective testing rationale than the ancient Madison Avenue yardstick, cost-per-contact.

Do you want to find out? That’s easy. Replace guesswork with testing. NPT

Herschell Gordon Lewis is a professional writer who lives in Pompano Beach, Fla., consulting with and writing direct response copy for clients worldwide. He is the author of “Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings,” an analysis of fundraising techniques. His most recent book is his 32nd– “Internet Marketing Tips, Tricks, and Tactics.” Among his other books are “On the Art of Writing Copy,” (fourth edition),“Creative Rules for the 21st Century,” and “How to Write Powerful Fund Raising Letters.” His website is herschellgordonlewis.com.