5 things I’ve learned from Art’s mailbox


About a year ago, my husband and I purchased a 111-year-old house in Toronto. We are so happy to be settling into a house with so much character, but we’re even luckier to have a sense of its history.

Art, the house’s previous owner of more than 70 years, has shared so much with us – the house’s quirks, the neighbours, the things that need fixing… but there is something even greater than all that:

The direct mail.

Art is clearly a generous man and has given to lots of charities, because shortly after I moved in, the waves of direct mail began.

So as the fundraising nerd that I am, I bought a binder to catalogue it all.

Now – after nearly a year of watching the mail pour in – here are my top five observations:

#1 – Old habits die hard

I received several packages that used old school tactics like sending a coin. Are these driving response rates? I have to assume so, but charities need to be thinking longer-term. If these tactics aren’t driving the acquisition of long-term donors who are committed to the mission, then they aren’t worth the rising costs of acquiring new donors!

#2 – Premiums

This, too, may fall into the old habits die hard category, but I can tell you I have enough mailing labels for Art to last me a lifetime. I could use the volume of calendars I received this year to wallpaper an entire room. It’s a reminder to always look at your results and see if the lift you once had from the premium is still there. Your calendar might not be the unique keepsake you might think it is. (And as with #1 – you need to be thinking longer-term.)

#3 – The importance of variability

I may not be Art but I am offended on his behalf when they use his name in one portion of the package and then later simply call him “friend”. While it can raise the price per piece to add more variability, it can be jarring to suddenly have the tone shift from so personal to so distant.

SHOUT OUT to Heart and Stroke for the variability on their holiday card pack – “from the (Art’s Last name) family” on the front of the cards is a nice touch to the premium and one that caught my eye. I would use that!

#4 – Size doesn’t matter

I think that many smaller organizations think that they cannot create effective direct mail, but Art was donating to several smaller charities and some of the packages I received were beautiful, heartfelt and very compelling. I know that in these smaller shops the number of people who need to approve the content tends to be lower, and my hypothesis is that this helps the letter retain more of its authenticity and connection to the donor.

#5 – Fresh eyes are key

No matter the size of the organization or the agency supporting them, spelling mistakes, poor content placement in envelopes and missing information happen frequently. It’s a reminder to all of us that the closer we are to a project, the easier it is to forget to zoom out and look at it with fresh eyes. Be sure to always ask a colleague to have a true second look. Anything that might turn off a donor is something to be avoided!

I can’t wait to apply more of these learnings in my work here at Blakely, and I’m even more excited to see what arrives in Art’s mailbox next!


Laura Champion

Fundraising Strategist