Designing Political Fundraising Mail that Works

Writing Your Fundraising Letter

While not as powerful as it once was, direct mail remains a very successful fundraising strategy for most political campaigns.  Sending snail mail fundraising letters to donors and prospects can reap huge rewards for your campaign.

I recommend that every campaign, no matter how small, use housefile mailings to raise money from their current donors.  Larger campaigns that have more than a year to go before Election Day should also consider adding prospecting mail into the mix (this means sending out letters to rented lists to build a larger donor file).

Whether you are engaging in prospecting mailings or housefile mailings, your direct mail should be designed so it grabs the readers’ attention and convinces them to give.  Here’s how to design your fundraising mail so that it achieves both of those goals:

Design for Both Scanners and Readers

When it comes to fundraising letters, there are three types of people:

The 10 Second Club – The vast majority of people fall into this category. These are the folks that look at your letter and walk it to the trash can – they have your piece in their hands for approximately 10 seconds.

The Skimmers – A far smaller number of people are skimmers – people who look through your fundraising letter on the way to trash can, reading headlines and looking at the “P.S”.  They will generally have your letter in their hands for 20-30 seconds. These people are usually more interested in politics, and thus more likely to make political donations, or are just people who like to skim everything before they throw it out so as to not miss anything.

The Readers – Few and far between, these people will actually take the time to read your fundraising letter. They generally will look through your piece for 1-2 minutes, reading the headlines and drilling down into the text. These people are either very interested in your particular election, or tend to be older, retired folks who enjoy receiving and reading political mail.

It may not seem fair… you’ve spent all that time writing and designing your fundraising letter and figuring out whom to mail it to, and most of those people just throw it out!

Most people will look at your fundraising letter for 30 seconds or less. Design it accordingly!

Not to fear… direct mail fundraising still works, and is still a very cost effective tactic for most campaigns. The key is to design your fundraising mail with the knowledge that most people will hold it in their hands for 30 seconds or less… to get the most bang for your buck, you need to use tried and true methods to make your mail more successful and memorable – to design political fundraising mail that appeals to all three types of recipients noted above.

For the 10 second club, you need to include a really compelling teaser on the envelope and a great first line that makes them want to skim further. For skimmers, include lots of headlines and sub-headlines, a strong “P.S.”, and pull quotes. For readers, make sure that each headline is supported with some text (but not too much). That way, no matter what type of person is receiving your mail piece, they are engaged and can easily pick out what is most important: your candidate’s name and message and your fundraising ask.

Remember what People Read First

Your average reader looking at a fundraising letter will read the first line, the bolded and italicized words, any headlines, captions on pictures, and the P.S. – What does this mean for you? It means that you should design your fundraising mail piece so that a person who reads the text this way can understand what you are saying and hear the call to action (your ask!) Use the first line, bolded words, captions and your P.S. (and P.P.S., and P.P.P.S.) to tell your story and ask for money. Then, use the rest of the letter to fill in the gaps.

Ask for Specific Amounts

Have you ever received a political fundraising direct mail letter that included words like this?

Please give your most generous contribution of $50, $100, $250 or more today to help us win this campaign!

Did you ever wonder why so many campaigns use formulas like that for their asks? The answer is: because it works! People give more when they are asked to give a range of specific amounts. Those amounts can be determined either by what they have given in the past (for housefile folks), what they can most likely afford to give (for prospecting folks) or be based on some general numbers. No matter what way you go about it, ask for a range of specific amounts.

People like Variety

When you are mailing to your housefile, keep it varied! You can reasonably, and with very little complaint from the folks on the list, mail to your housefile once per month (meaning that you send them one piece of fundraising direct mail once per month, in addition to the campaign’s other non-fundraising communications).

However, if you mail to your list that often, people will soon get tired of reading the same types of direct mail letters over and over again. The solution is to change it up – be creative, and send your housefile various types of fundraising direct mail. Some popular themes include:

The Questionnaire – Ask your donors to send back in their thoughts, as well as their donations.

Polling Memo – If you’ve got good polling news, write it up into a memo and mail it out with an ask.

Good News / Bad News – If you’ve got either really good news (we’re up in the polls!) or seemingly bad news (our opponent just got a major endorsement and we need your help to combat it!) send it out with a request for contributions.

Certified Letter – One of my favorites. Send your mid- and high-level housefile donors each a certified letter (yes, an actual USPS certified letter) with hot, breaking news and an urgent ask. If you’ve built a great housefile and communicated with them regularly, this could be your biggest housefile mailing of the year (do not try this unless you have a large enough high-level housefile segment and you have communicated regularly with them for at least six months).

Direct mail fundraising can provide a significant boost to your campaign’s bottom line.  Remember to design your letters the right way, be creative, and be sure include a specific ask in each of your letters.

Photo Credit: Brady


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