Listen to The Small Nonprofit podcast on your favourite platform:

unlocking the power of design to raise more money with John Lepp

blog photo: unlocking the power of design to raise more money with John Lepp

Also listen at: iTunesGoogle MusicStitcher

Let me start by saying today we're going to be talking about direct appeal fundraising and specifically design because design is a really important piece of what we're sending out so can you start by talking about why design is important and and what impact it can have if done right versus not right?

At Agents of Good, we run a lot of direct response programs. And I know in the context of direct response or direct marketing, design falls pretty low on the totem pole in terms of importance. You know, as any direct marketer or direct response expert knows the number one most important thing in direct response is list. If you don't have a good list, then it doesn't matter about anything else.

As a sector, we spend a lot of time talking about some of these other components of direct response and not a lot on design. So it's great for me to be able to share some of the nerd knowledge that I have around design because I do obsess over design as much as I obsess over the right list, or how to segment that list or what is the best offer, or the best story or whatever else you want to think about.

Often, it looks like design is very much an afterthought, or it's put in the hands of people who actually don't understand the importance of it. Even if you wind up doing everything perfectly, I always joke that if I had a letter, the best letter in the world written by God or maybe even better in some circles, Tom Ahern, if I don't do my job properly on that outer envelope, then it's not going to matter what is inside because no one's going to look at it.

So the role of design is super, super important. And I literally, it's not a joke, I do lie awake at night and in the mornings thinking about outer envelopes.

I want you to clarify, because we're not just talking about design, like, does it fit within our brand standards and all of that. We're talking about design that works that actually is effective and it doesn't always mean that it's the most beautiful thing or it doesn't always fit in with our design aesthetics. So you talk about what the differences between signing up just looks beautiful and something that is effective?

You took the words out my mouth. Because I mean, a lot of people think design is just how something looks. And as you've put it so eloquently, it's really about how something works, not how it looks.

I have to check my own subjective needs and desires as a graphic designer at the door and I have to ask myself, is this going to help the piece get a better response get a better result, or is it not? I'm going for less is more definitely in this area. You have to understand how a design allows a donor to move through a pack, what they're experiencing in that little moment, and make sure that every piece of that experience, is the best it possibly can be. So I'm always thinking about how I want a donor to move to the pack. What do I want them to look at first? What do I want them to see? First and last and what should I say to get them to do what I want them to do?

We often associate design with expensive. Can you talk a little bit about that misconception?

A Large part of the stuff that we do with our clients is produced in house.

We always talk about these like little moments to make the design extra personal. These little touches, like I'm left handed. So whenever I write anything, I smear ink all over the place. And computers don't smear ink. It's like stamps. Computers don't put stamps on envelopes, but humans do. It’s these little imperfections in our work that really are effective. We like to get our clients to paperclip photographs on the top of letters and do all these things that computers and machines can't do. Because it sends all these little signals to donors that there's humans involved in the creation of this piece.

I don't think that what I'm trying to do design that's expensive, because they know that that expensive design doesn't make for more effective design. So I'm always trying to think what are some imperfections we can build into these things. Like we'll do a gratitude report that basically looks like people photocopied this page and tape this image here and stapled this to that. It creates a more human piece at the end of the day. It's very designed but I'd be hard pressed for personal look at it go “this is very designed.” The design is the fact that it's not designed.

So let's talk about that donor experience and their journey in opening receiving and opening a piece of mail. Let's start from the top. What should we be thinking about?

Well, I always refer to my mother in law and presentations. Here in Canada, my mother in law is your donor. She's between 65 and 95 years old. She's exactly who you should be thinking of when you're pretty serious direct mail or direct response piece because that's your audience. She'll get between 30 to 40 appeals in a week. Wow. In that context, I have to think about that very moment that she wanders to her mailbox. And from that moment, I have to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to make sure that she's going to take a look at the thing I've sent her. So the majority of the stuff that she gets our white number 10 envelopes, which is like the most standard envelope you can purchase, it is definitely the cheapest. But when you consider 90% of the stuff, she's holding the 40 pieces, she's holding her hands that moment looks like that. You're not rising above.

How do we rise above?

Almost everything I do is in a nine by six envelope, which is obviously bigger doesn't really cost more from a postage point of view compared to the number 10. She's pulled out the two or three bigger envelopes and she's looking at those now what do I need to do to make sure she doesn't throw mine aside? And there's a whole art form behind that the idea of writing good taglines or what kind of visuals are great on header envelopes. Again, this is something I see done wrong over and over and over again. There is an art form to a really good tagline. Saying "Josie's stories inside please open now!" is not a good tagline. It doesn't ask her any questions. That's not provocative. She definitely knows it's not about her.

I know from a testing point of view, tactically, a nine by six envelope with a logo only and a return address will do better than almost anything else.

From there, I wanna make sure her name is all over all nice and big, but in testing ideally, the letter will show through in most donors will look at their name and address and make sure that spelled right. And everything's right there, they will quickly scan down, flip it over and look at who's it who it's from, and then read the PS. And some donors, based on those three things will make a decision to give or not.

I used to work at a business school, and when we were doing direct appeal, I had colleagues who said well, PSs are from typewriter days and so we shouldn't have them anymore especially because we are a business school and of course, the people we were working with on direct appeal said no, you need to PS and certainly that's been my experience what goes into a good PostScript

The best PS is plain and simple. It repeats your offer and why I need to take action now. Why me and why now?

Listen to the full interview for even more great advice!

Subscribe & Review in iTunes

Are you subscribed to the podcast? If you’re not, I want to encourage you to do that today. We have even more great interviews coming and I don’t want you to miss an episode. Click here to subscribe in iTunes!

Resources from this Episode

The Good Partnership


John’s blog

Follow and talk to John on Twitter @JohnLepp

The Handbook of Direct Mail (You can ask John for a copy!)

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano