How to harness the power of mystery for your fundraising

This envelope makes one of the most common errors in direct mail fundraising. Can you see what it is?

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No mystery!

There is no reason for someone to open this envelope, because it fully reveals what’s inside. My experience bears this out: With some exceptions, no-mystery envelopes do poorly.

Here’s another one.

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This one doesn’t give everything away like the envelope above, but it is very clear: In this envelope is a fundraising appeal.

So unless the recipient has been waiting by the mailbox and thinking, I really hope there’s a fundraising appeal today — it is unlikely to get opened.

And if it doesn’t get opened, it’s game over for this piece of mail.

Your donors, being human beings, are intensely curious. To be human is to be curious. Anything that presents a mystery, even a very minor one, is more interesting than anything that is not mysterious.

That’s why the best bet for your direct mail outer envelopes is to make is mysterious. Odd. Unrevealing. Like this one:

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Why does it say First Class? It doesn’t need to. It’s just a shot of mystery. The restless primate who’s holding it finds it hard to resist, so it has a good chance of getting opened.

This is why putting nothing at all on your outer envelope is a good bet too.

The same principle works for subject lines too. In most cases (not all), a mysterious subject line works better than one that gives it all away.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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