INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Member Viewpoint - Focusing on style over substance is costing charity mailings dear

Tim Walker, managing director at TW CAT

How much do looks really count? Surely we can all see beneath the surface to the beauty that lies within? Maybe so, yet this doesn't seem to apply to donor mailings, and, as a result, charities are missing out on millions of pounds.

The problem is that creative treatments for donor mailings are often selected on the basis of how visually attractive or novel they are, not on how well they communicate an important need from one person to another.

Compare a direct mail pack with a letter from a friend. The latter may not be nearly as pleasing to the eye but duplicating this personal approach will raise far more money from your donors.

Why then the dependence on so-called teasers, and 'involvement devices' - many of which are little better than gimmicks and novelties - to communicate serious needs? When did someone who was a friend or colleague last send you a letter with a message on the outer envelope or enclose a ripped-up leaflet to show you how their life has been torn apart by drug addiction?

The fact is we are all sometimes taken in by advertising because it excites us, not because it does the job. All-singing all-dancing creatives benefit big direct marketing agencies financially and provides a form of titillation to all of us. Yet in most cases it isn't the best way to raise money.

I've just seen the results of 13 head-to-head mailing tests of the advertising-led approach versus the one-to-one approach - and in all but one instance the one- to- one approach won out strongly. The extra income from a one-to-one approach ranged from 32-174 per cent more than that from advertising-led schemes, and translated into thousands of pounds of extra income.

Surely the charity sector, above all others, can put brains before beauty?

- The Institute welcomes Viewpoint articles from its members. Please email the membership manager (

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