Our Work

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

Scott AllbeeTo Tease or not to Tease
read more

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

Scott AllbeeAll ears? You should be
read more

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

Scott Allbee3 Key Tips to Better Communication
read more

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

Margaret RandallCan you READ me now?
read more

I’ll Be Me Foundation, Glen Campbell

While new acquisition efforts normally cast as wide a net as possible, New River Communications was tasked this time with creating a package to pull in high dollar donors. Our client: the I’ll Be Me Foundation – an organization founded around Glen Campbell’s fight with Alzheimer’s disease. The fundraising letter came from Glen’s wife and was aimed at potential supporters in the entertainment community. Rather than use standard mass mail techniques, we took a hi-touch personalized approach including a closed-faced envelope with “genuine pen” addressing in silver ink. Inside, the piece included memorable pictures of Glenn on his last tour, an emotional plea from his wife, a special guitar pick and an exclusive invitation to be a founding Rhinestone Circle Member “to change the future for everyone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.”

Margaret RandallI’ll Be Me Foundation, Glen Campbell
read more

Grand Canyon Association

Among the many important works of the Grand Canyon Association (GCA) is an initiative to protect the night skies from light pollution. Hard to believe, but true: The rapid spread of light pollution means that 8 in 10 Americans can no longer look up and see The Milky Way! The Grand Canyon is one of the best places in the USA where you can still take in this breathtaking trail of stars that most used to take for granted – and GCA is taking serious steps to protect the night skies. The idea of this disappearing treasure struck us as a riveting theme to appeal to donors and new prospects of GCA. We developed the tag line “Help Keep Us in the Dark” and used it in direct mail, in emails, on social media, in digital ads (some that linked to video that laid out the theme), etc. This memorable theme caught the attention of supporters and outperformed more general ads about supporting the wonders of the Canyon. Preserving the mystery and beauty of a starlit night clearly struck a chord across all channels.

Margaret RandallGrand Canyon Association
read more

The Everglades Foundation

This Everglades Foundation package created by New River Communications urges the public to get involved and do their part to save the irreplaceable Florida wetlands before it’s too late. The personalized brown kraft outside carrier with the red stamp font give the package an official and serious feel. To bring in as many names as possible, the package offers a low bar of entry for a prospect to get involved. Those interested need only sign a declaration to add their voice to the “now-or-neverglades” campaign. The package uses a mix of disturbing and beautiful images to show what’s at stake if prospects don’t pay attention and take action. The invitation to give is enhanced by a matching gift that doubles any gift given. The direct mail piece is part of a multi-channel effort to raise awareness and solicit gifts – the petition was made available on-line too.

Margaret RandallThe Everglades Foundation
read more

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

Scott AllbeeThe Alpha Channel
read more

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.

Scott AllbeeRead it and Weep
read more

A Voice and a Lesson from Appalachia



Sawdust was flying, hammers were tapping away, and insulation was being stuffed into the skeleton of a house that was being brought back to life. Volunteer work crews carried out their magic in the afternoon sun, making the dilapidated homes of families in need warmer, safer and drier.

I spent last week in the Appalachian mountains gathering stories for a favorite client. John, a retired cop from New Jersey was telling us how grateful his small volunteer crew of men, women and teens were to be here giving their time and talent to the cause. In fact, they were thankful just to be alive. A little over a year ago, they’d been involved in a 64-car pile-up on Interstate 78. As they’d done for years, they’d been on their way to Appalachia to help when disaster struck. John whipped out his iphone to share photos of the wreckage, and we both wondered aloud that anyone had survived. But all of them had, and now, just 14 months later, they were back in the mountains, spending their spring break bringing help and hope.

As we talked, I heard someone start to sing a little ways off. The voice was strong and clear and when the power saws stopped at the end of a cut they didn’t start again. Everyone wanted to take in this voice ringing across the hollows. The singer’s name was Judy, a fifty-something grandmother whose house was being worked on. I’d talked to her earlier and knew how thankful she was for the help. Her house had been collapsing and there was no running water inside. She relies on kind neighbors to get a shower. Her life has been full of hardship, but Judy has a resilience, an “attitude of gratitude” – and, it turns out, an angel’s voice – that feeds you. Earlier in our conversation, John had told me that in doing this work in poverty-stricken Appalachia, he believed he took more than he gave. I’ve heard that idea before, but standing on that mountainside hearing Judy’s Amazing Grace, I knew those weren’t empty words.

So what’s all this got to do with fundraising? Everything. It’s a reminder to go mine your stories. Get out and touch the work. Smell it. Feel it. Don’t depend on clichés or blandly restating your, yawn, mission. Talk to those on the front lines who carry out your organization’s work and spend time with the people (or animals, or whatever) you serve. Find ways to capture the lightning of your mission in a bottle. And then find ways to share it with your donors. Tapping into your donors’ hearts – not their skulls – is the way you motivate them to give.

Since you can’t bring all of them to the field, find ways to bring the field to them. Share someone like Judy  or John with them and watch how much easier your fundraising becomes.

Margaret RandallA Voice and a Lesson from Appalachia
read more