To Tease or not to Tease

Teaser copy is, of course, the text on the outside of an envelope designed to “tease” someone into opening it. Typically, you see mundane stuff like “FREE gift inside” or “Matching Gift: Double Your Impact” or “Open Immediately.” Exciting? Not really. Overused? No doubt. But just remember, if you’re seeing something again and again it’s probably because it’s working!

These kinds of teasers are like pizza. Lacking inspiration for dinner? Pizza taste good and fills you up. In a pinch… it gets the job done.

But I don’t recommend a steady diet of pizza. And truly talented pros out there are creating clever teaser copy that get envelopes opened without putting the reader to sleep. Paul Bobnak over at Target Marketing Magazine has, for the second year in a row, poured over thousands of direct mail packages to select his 6 Best Direct Mail Teasers. It’s worth a read. One of my personal favorites is an entry from Ocean Conservancy, “10 THINGS you never knew about the ocean that will amaze you. NUMBER 3 will take your breath away…”

Here’s a little secret:

I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years and a lot has changed about direct-response fundraising. But a lot hasn’t. And one of those annoyingly consistent unchanging truths is this: often the best teaser copy is… no teaser copy at all.

It’s incredibly hard to beat the “mystery” of a bare naked envelope.

And for creative folks, that’s hard to take. A direct mail package just doesn’t seem finished until you come up with a clever teaser that screams for attention. And if you’re working at an agency you know that doing what works is only half the battle. Pleasing the client is the other half. And when clients are paying you for being creative… they probably aren’t going to be wowed with a plain white envelope.

One of my “mentors” in this industry is a guy I’ve never met, Jerry Huntsinger. You can google him. Back in the late 80s and early 90s (before email and the internet revolutionized business communication), if you subscribed to his “service” he would send you a three ring binder at the beginning of the year and then each month send you a new three-hole-punched lesson to read and insert in your binder. Even then, it seemed very old school but in a good way. And he’s one of my favorite writers of any genre. Always good about sprinkling in a lot of humor to help make the lesson stick. One of these lessons was titled How I Learned to Love Teaser Copy and it contained this gem:

And some days when I was in a black mood, I would come up with teaser copy that immediately went into the trash because the client would never approve of it, such as:

“Open this envelope – or we will remove your name from our prayer list.”

“Renew your gift immediately and avoid a bothersome telephone call 30 days from now when you sit down to your evening meal.”

“Have you run out of money?”

Funny stuff right? And they probably would have worked gang busters if anyone had had the guts to actually try them. Actually that third one he did finally manage to get in the mail and…it became a longstanding control.

But Huntsinger was well aware even then that often the best teaser is no teaser. He goes on to talk about creating what he considered the “perfect teaser copy” for the Nature Conservancy—and how it failed to work.

So, would some clever teaser copy make your results soar? Would no teaser copy work even better?

To cite another of those annoyingly, but well, true, truisms: Test it.

Keep Teasing,

Rod Taylor, President

To Tease or not to Tease
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All ears? You should be

With my roots in the for-profit marketing industry, one thing I’ve observed is that those who are most successful at what they do have one common trait: they know how to listen. Companies may know their product and or service very well, but to grow, they need a better handle on their customers and what motivates them.

For non-profit organizations your donors and volunteers are like your customers. But how do you listen to your donors? Just like anything else that you want to grow or improve upon, it takes much care and cultivation. Here are some popular solutions and a few creative thoughts and strategies to think about.

  • Listen to the numbers. Use analytics to learn what, where and when to communicate with your donors so that you can optimize and focus your efforts.
  • Ask questions and opinions. Include surveys or questions on donor likes and interests in reply forms and in your social media marketing.
  • Get personal. Take moving stories from volunteers, staff and all those who are supported by your cause and use them to tell your organization’s “story” in your communication and marketing materials, across all channels.
  • Bring people together. Fundraising events are not just a way to raise funds, but a very personal way for you to connect and interact with donors and volunteers, or even introduce others to your organization or cause. This helps everyone get more involved and engaged into your organization and your vision.
  • Fear not! Don’t be afraid to use every type of marketing that you can, including social media. Even though some of these efforts may not seem to bring a high ROI, remember that you are planting seeds and need to continue to cultivate and nurture them to grow, and spread into a larger fruit bearing source.
  • Get testy. Keep trying new ideas to improve on what you are already doing. Always test new ideas in your current fundraising efforts. The results will give the answers. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does.
  • Let them know they are heard. Donors and volunteers give for internal satisfaction not personal gain, but if you want them to keep giving, make sure at every opportunity to tell them how much they are appreciated and how their contributions are making a difference.


It seems like everyday a new nonprofit organization is born, making it even more difficult for your organization to survive. So, if you want to survive, or better yet, thrive ­– always remember, you are not the donor, so don’t try to be a mind reader, just listen and you’ll surely continue to grow.

I’m all ears,

Scott Allbee, Art Director

All ears? You should be
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3 Key Tips to Better Communication

Whether you’re talking agency-to-client or department to department at a nonprofit, good communication is essential for success.

Try these three simple (but often ignored) tips to make you a better communicator, and subsequently, a better fundraiser…

Respond, dammit!

This has always been a personal pet peeve… When a client or colleague emails, leaves a voicemail or a text… Respond!

Even if you can’t answer their question just yet. Take a moment to pick up the phone or shoot them an email saying, “I’m on this and will get back to you as soon as I know more…” Your response tells them you are listening and aware of their needs. It lets them know they are a priority and, hands down, beats a no reply at all.

Put yourself in their shoes

As you know, many in the nonprofit industry wear multiple hats and have lots on their plate. Their direct response and multi-channel fundraising campaigns may not be at the top of their priority list. So in the beginning of a partnership, I try to get to know our new client inside and out. How much of their time is dedicated to this part of their program? How much time do they need for approvals? What are their specific concerns and pet peeves?

The more I know about their situation, the better I can “customize” our relationship to meet their needs. Some clients are more hands on… some have no time and want us to do just about everything and then just have them sign off on the work. Their top priority might be following a concise mail schedule. Others might be more finicky about getting their content just right – and be less concerned with exact mail or deploy date. Likewise, departments inside a nonprofit that need to collaborate should have a sense of what else their colleagues are juggling, how much time they need, etc.

Be active and engaged in the Mission

To be an effective communicator, you have to be in the know. At New River, we keep up on things in a few ways. One essential step: set up Google Alerts to let you know of any press reports that mention the organization you work for (or at.) Follow the org on social media. Visit their website at least once a week. Become a donor to all of your clients. There’s no better way to see how donors are being communicated with and engaged. There are times – here’s where the “many hats” comes into play again – that you are not fully aware of what and how donors are being talked to by marketing, development, leadership, etc. This is a great way to stay on top of all that is going on. In short, get involved in the org’s mission every way you can. And, yes, this tip also applies to people who work at a nonprofit. When there’s a lot happening, it’s easy to be in the dark about at least some things – even at your own workplace!

Hope these tips help you to better communication practices. Better communication means fewer misunderstandings, more trust and better work relationships. Let me know of any other tips you’d offer – I’m a student of good communication and would love to hear your thoughts!

All the best,

Christa Chappel, VP Client Services

3 Key Tips to Better Communication
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Can you READ me now?


The concept that BIG FONTS work better in fundraising letters is old news, I hope. But the truth is there’s more to good typography than just using large fonts like Courier or Times New Roman. If you want to increase readership, you have to increase readability – across the board.

These additional typographic tips from Target Marketing magazine will be easy on your donors’ eyes and increase the likelihood that they’ll take action:

  • Just because there are thousands of typefaces, doesn’t mean you should use all of them. Keep it simple – two typefaces are usually enough. Understand what needs to be emphasized and choose the most effective type treatment. One good motto is, “use as many as you need and as few as possible”.
  • Take caution when using reversed-out type. White type on a black or colored background can be difficult to read and should be used selectively. In addition, is the type smaller then 10 point, a large block of copy and/or in a serif typeface? Probably best to find another typographic solution.
  • Use typography to create a visual guide for scanners and readers. Eye flow is, in large part, a function of typography. By asking “where do I want the eye to go first” and using typographic elements such as big bold sans serif fonts for headlines and sub headlines, will direct the eye to that area first and create easy scanning with added emphasis. Is there a specific quote that really drives the article? Make it stand out with a large complimentary font. Having a hierarchy between headlines, captions, body copy and sidebars guides the reader to your call to action.


Margaret Randall, Senior Graphic Designer

Can you READ me now?
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The Alpha Channel

This past year, I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself into the world of direct response fundraising. Before my time at New River, I thought that direct mail would be quickly phased out by social media and other online marketing efforts. But I’ve realized – much to my surprise – that if direct mail is dying, it’s going to be a VERY slow death.

In fact, direct mail is known to most savvy fundraisers as the “The Alpha Channel” among all media channels in the direct marketing world.

I’ve witnessed the power of “The Alpha Channel” firsthand. Just think: if a moderately successful acquisition package to a targeted group of 10,000 prospects pulls in a 1% response rate, that’s 100 new donors. You’d have to run 10 times as many banners ads online to reach even half that number of donors!

As a millennial marketer, my first instinct is to think digital. But when I look at the numbers I realize that while digital efforts – email, online ads, social media, etc – are awesome (and pretty much part of most every campaign we do), they’re supporting players when it comes to bringing in the dollars and cents.

So, from the “New Kidd,” all respect to that old work horse that still delivers….

Whitney Kidd, Account Executive

The Alpha Channel
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Read it and Weep

I’ve recently transitioned from working in commercial advertising to the wonderful world of non-profits. One thing I enjoy about commercial advertising are the emotional appeals and heartfelt stories that follow certain brands. Think inclusion with Coca-Cola, inspiration with Nike or comedy with Mayhem for Allstate. These brands understand that what connects you to an audience are the emotions and relatability of your product or service.

It’s no different – and maybe connecting is even more important – for nonprofits and direct response fundraising. It’s critical to create content that will have your donors reading and weeping… and feeling the urge to support you. In my short time in the nonprofit space, I’ve quickly come to see that donors are still consumers. If you want to earn their support, you first have to win their hearts.

So how do you create a direct mail package or email or other campaign worth crying over? Here’s one tip to get you on the right track: Think of reasons you watch or listen to an ad. It has maybe two seconds, or less, to grab your attention. It’s no different with non-profits and direct mail. Your carrier envelope or subject line has to draw them in. And the message you deliver has to grab them right away and keep them reading!

Getting them to read, weep, laugh, think and, ultimately to act is no easy feat. So next time you watch a commercial for Coke, or Corona, or Kia, or whatever commercial product makes you feel good or somehow “connected” to a brand – analyze it and ask yourself why it works for you. (It’s not news that these companies spend millions to connect with potential consumers, so jump on their coattails and see what you can learn.) Is there something – an idea, an approach, a feeling – you can use to help you build connection to your nonprofit? Take it, own it, use it and make hay to fuel your nonprofit’s good work.

Read it and Weep
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Lost in the Middle?


Like the middle child, chances are your charity’s Mid-Level donors are feeling left out and lacking attention. Yet, sitting right smack dab in the middle of your donor pyramid, these same donors represent a rich source of untapped opportunity. You just need to reach out and show them some love.

However, you simply cannot approach Mid-Level donors in the same way as major donors or lower dollar, annual fund donors. It’s important to steward their loyalty and commitment. The truth is, Mid-Level donors want to participate and engage more in your cause. So how can you invest in them?

  • Leverage best direct marketing practices with major gift components. Work to create an enhanced form of direct marketing with the goal of raising greater revenue while cultivating a stronger bond with the donor.
  • Provide deeper levels of information about the good works that donors accomplish through your nonprofit. Direct mail appeals can contain more depth and detail than mailings to regular donors. Provide more “insider” information and insight into your organization’s works and challenges.
  • Create packages that are unique and compelling. Use hi-touch, direct mail methods such as closed face envelopes, First Class stamps, genuine pen addressing, upgraded paper stock, etc.


Need some creative inspiration for a winning Mid-Level direct mail package? Check out this piece created by New River to help keep visitors to America’s first national park safe from big, bad bears. Click here to view.

Lost in the Middle?
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Millennial Donors: An Oxymoron?

Since the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and even before, I‘ve found more and more clients wanting to embark on the unchartered journey of converting millennials into donors. I recently ran across an article that did a great job of highlighting things I’ve found to be true when engaging with millennials (and as a millennial myself, it takes one to know one!)

One important takeaway was transparency. Millennials REALLY want to make an impact… so if they’re going to donate to your cause, you’d better be able to deliver on what you promise – and be able to show it. We millennials love follow up and accountability. So share results and real stories with us – of the hungry child who was fed, the sea turtle that was saved or a homeless vet who now has a place to call “home.”

I also believe that millennials are nudging the older generations to become more aware of the causes they are supporting. They’re pushing donors to be more involved, whether via hands-on volunteering or using social media to ask questions, share their experiences with a nonprofit, and more fully engage in a worthy cause.

The reality is that most millennials aren’t ready to be full-fledged donors – the disposable income just isn’t there yet. But why not start cultivating us? Engage with the knowledge that we can become your future donors. Consider starting a young professional leadership program. If you already have one, make sure to engage them in fundraising. Also, capitalize on campaigns that resonate with younger folk… I’m thinking #GivingTuesday or other peer to peer (pressure) opportunities.

Take it slow, try new things but recognize you won’t likely see a return on your investment just yet. With a new administration in office, there’s A LOT of idea exchange going on in the social media world. Suffice it to say that millennials are talking. We’re chatting about our concerns, our aspirations, and where we’re going. Listen and you’ll find insights into connecting with us budding philanthropists. You’ll see we are interested in changing the world – and are ready to work with others who demonstrate they are doing just that.

Millennial out,

Christa Keller

Millennial Donors: An Oxymoron?
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“Any negative polls are fake news…” Trump tweeted

Fake news is big news these days. The president routinely accuses his detractors of spreading fake news. The media calls FAKE NEWS on Trump himself for unsupported claims about his inauguration crowd size, illegal voters, wire-tapping, etc.

Your social media feed is full of it. Your Crazy Uncle Joe is constantly posting it. The Russian propaganda machine is constantly creating it. You try to be savvy about spotting it—but you just can’t escape it.

Scholars and journalists write long, thoughtful treatises on why it is so pervasive and what market forces compel it and how we can fight back against it. But what about its impact on fundraising? I believe it could be earthshaking…

I’ve been a fundraiser for a long time. I have accomplished, experienced, veteran fundraisers working for me here at the agency who are younger than my first fundraising campaign. It’s a sobering thought. I’ve lived through the technological revolution of the last quarter century that has transformed the way we do business. But with the advent of the fake news problem, I suspect we are on the cusp of an even more earth-shaking upheaval. What I like to call the The Authenticity Revolt.

The Authenticity Revolt is blowback from the spread of fake news and viral lies. Consumers and donors are bombarded with sketchy, poorly-sourced messaging that is more and more sophisticated and harder and harder to tell from legitimate news. This increases cynicism and skepticism. One thing I’ve learned from my long years of labor in the fundraising fields is that cynicism and skepticism are my mortal enemies. Put another way—no one gives you a check without first giving you their trust. And the harder it is to earn trust, the harder it is to get that check (or get them to hit that Donate Button).

So when fake news proliferates, eroding trust and growing cynicism, what’s a fundraiser to do?

Earn trust by being honest. Build trust by showing outcomes. Reward trust by sharing inside (warts and all) information.

One New River client has developed an Ethics Committee to review all fundraising materials. They make sure that direct response copywriters don’t go too far in embellishing stories or that public relations materials don’t overstate accomplishments. That funds raised are spent exactly how the fundraising pitch portrayed they would be. They guard against fake-news fundraising and zealously safe-guard authenticity. Why aren’t more organizations doing this?

Tomorrow’s best fundraisers will find their own innovative ways to stand out from the crowd and give cynical consumers what they crave: authenticity. Imagine the satisfaction your donors will have when you close the loop on a fundraising campaign by reporting back (with photos, stories and stats) that you did exactly what you said you were going to do with their money! Imagine your donor retention numbers climbing ever higher when you consistently tell the authentic truth instead of some idealized version of alternative truth. Don’t you think they can tell the difference?

Savvy fundraisers know that they have to stand out from a marketplace crowed by more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. Find your authentic voice, banish fake news from your fundraising appeals and you will win the hearts of donors starved for genuine truthfulness.

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What’s a picture worth?

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

It’s a quote we’ve all heard a thousand times before. And while its origin is debatable, the meaning still rings true to this day – no more so than in fundraising.

Getting your charity’s message across to potential donors to open their hearts, and their wallets, and give to your worthy cause can be a challenge — even if it’s a cause or mission they already believe in.

However, the right image, along with minimal but powerful text can be the magic wand youneed to stir emotion and, ultimately, motivate action.

Here are a few suggestions in choosing the right image(s) for your next campaign:

  • Make it personal by including photos of actual people (or animals) in your story. Even better if the imploring eyes of an innocent child, a lonely senior or a hurting puppy are staring back directly at the donor.
  • Before and after photos are great for showing that, with support from donors, your cause is far from hopeless – and with their (continued) help more results like this are possible.
  • Photos don’t always have to be professional, but make sure the photos are clear and high quality for print, or whatever medium you are using.
  • A good photographer and/or a good designer can make a big difference in the message you want your photos to convey. A bad image can do more harm than no image.

Pictures not only tell a story, they grab attention. So use powerful images to get your cause the attention it needs and rightfully deserves.

What’s a picture worth?
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