direct mail, Marketing

Your First Impression Won’t Be Your Last


St. Joseph’s Indian School delivers the piece de resistance.

You know it’s Fall when the big fundraising kits stuff your mailbox. This year we have a surfeit of gifts from direct mail fundraisers.


Father Flanagan’s Boystown stickers for identifying anything that moves.

Years ago the pioneers in the business presented us with address stickers.

These we have dutifully paid for and have now labeled every moveable item in our home: CDs, iPads, iPods, iPhones, chargers, golf clubs, cassettes, Walkmen, books, staplers, rulers, vinyl… luckily we don’t own a pet.

The ante was raised by the March Of Dimes who gratuitously presented us with a small monthly stipend of ten cents: a shiny new dime pasted to a donor form.


Food For The Poor’s coins… how can you just pocket them?

That munificence has been outpaced by Food For The Poor who made change for the dime, and sends us a penny and a shiny new Jefferson nickel. That’s a 40% cutback, but insertion is more costly, so it’s a wash.

Not to be outdone, Disabled American Vets provides a 9×12 calendar, which we can place beside the 10×20 calendar from Boys Town.

Of course, wall calendars are bulky, so we are grateful to St. Joseph’s Indian School which gave us a 4×6 calendar booklet for the purse. I am waiting for the 3×5 that fits in my shirt pocket.


There’s no excuse for not writing….here’s a VFW pen.

The mailing industry is of a generous culture though. With all these other possessions, we have also received dozens of greeting cards: whole writing kits, with pens, to reach out and greet someone– anyone.

Oblate Missions has sent us so many Christmas cards it may be easier if we send them our Christmas mailing list instead.


Catholic Relief Services’ prayer medallions.

You can’t blame an organization which does its part in reinforcing the goodwill that blossoms from receiving a greeting card in the mail.  I am all for it.

As a sidenote, the USPS post office in Libertyville has a well designed rack of greeting cards for sale.

This one cartoon I loved for its text:

Outer Cover: “Wow! You got a real, honest-to-goodness card! Not a text.  Not an email!”
Inside Caption: “Wow! It has an inside too! It just gets better and better!”

In one of their early bold moves, Disabled American Veterans pasted 45 cents in stamps onto their reply envelopes. Overflowing in confidence that once we saw the postage in place, we would feel obligated to fill the envelope.


Marines Toys For Tots and Wounded Warriors provide your stamps.

Even gutsier, Wounded Warrior Project and Marine Toys For Tots are paper clipping custom 47-cent stamps to their letters.   This is very expensive, as provides these stamps at a hefty premium.

The strategy works though.  Can one really use the stamp for anything other than a gift without a stab of guilt?


To avoid being pressed into service, British sailors eyed their brew from the bottom up.

The gifting brings to mind the old conscription practices of the 1700’s when British sailors were pressed into service when they drank from a tankard of ale, only to find the King’s shilling in the bottom.   By unwittingly enjoying the beverage, the sailor had been hired.

I think of that clever ploy as I pile up the loot, especially the coins and stamps.

The mailers know what they are doing. Despite all common sense, they have proven that the unsolicited gift still wrests outlandish response rates and donations. And once you are hooked, they will be back until they end up in your Will.

That’s right. Planned Giving is a part of every established fundraising strategy, and if you asked, many organizations can tell you which of their huge bequests started with a direct mail gift, years before.


Fleece gloves… probably a postal nightmare, but still handy.

This season’s most impressive packages included one from Kids Wish Network, which sent along a pair of fleece gloves.  They arrived in a lumpy wrinkled paper envelope I am sure that the post office would rate as “baggage class”.

But how do you throw those out?   What tight fisted non-donor could wear them, especially when the writer suggests: “When you use the deluxe fleece gloves I sent you, I hope you you’ll remember Wish Kids like Tabitha…” .

The penultimate delivery however, the cream of the crop, the ne plus ultra, is the bulging envelope from St. Joseph’s Indian School.  No doubt USPS rated this one as “duffel bag class”.  Inside we found the usual and generous complement of address labels, gift stickers, 4×5 note pad, 5×7 note pad, pocket calendar, wall calendar, personalized calendar card, and 3 shrink wrapped greeting cards.


St. Joe’s mystical Dream Catcher, not to be ignored.

In addition however there was a most unique and unusual item, a genuine facsimile of a Lakota Indian Dream Catcher.

The Dream Catcher is a little hand-made assembly of string net, naugahide, beads and feathers.  Mounted on die-cut foam core, it is shrink wrapped with colorful operating instructions ending with: “to be hung on the tipi or lodge and on a baby’s cradle board”.

I have to admit, I had to dig through pounds of newspapers and old phone bills to retrieve this package from our recycling bin.  There is something especially foreboding about disposing of the St. Joseph’s piece so casually.


The Marines Toys For Tots medallion, struck with the USMC shield and Semper Fidelis on the other side.

Yes, in the past, I have taken all the coins, scribbled on  lots of notepads, hung countless calendars, and stuck hundreds of stickers without a moment’s guilt, or nearly so, but the Dream Catcher had me netted and nettled.  This one item–which I would never purchase on a dare–clinched the deal.  Just how unlucky could my life turn out if I didn’t give due respect?

So it’s hanging over my DAV Certificate of Merit.


Thanks for reading!   I hope you find your charity of choice this season.  These organizations are especially effective, and they mind their pennies too.




5 thoughts on “Your First Impression Won’t Be Your Last

  1. Pingback: Native American Charities: School and Scandal – the berkeley taboo

  2. Gregory Butler says:

    Once I started donating to a couple worthy recipients I was bombarded with dozens of request weekly…seems they either give or sale my information to other charities…I’ve gotten the pennies, nickles, dimes and stamps, along with calendars and dream catchers…I even get phone calls on a regular basis asking to send in that check…it’s outta control…recently I have been discarding all of the request into the recycle bin…I understand they need help, and must compete with hundreds of other charities for the mighty dollar…I simply can’t send everyone money…I’m hoping they get the message soon because I know it’s costing them money to continually recruit my assistance by sending me coins, stamps and calendars…the few dollars I’ve sent them has to have been absorbed in those cost…I get the impression my contributions are being spent on furthering their efforts to gain the upper hand in the world business of donations…I’m beyond feeling guilty…I’m actually becoming irritated and offended at their wastefulness…STOP hounding me and help those that need it…if I want to send my donations I will do it…blowing up my phone or sending me unsolicited mail isn’t working…

    Greg B Tampa, Fl


    • Hi Greg! I appreciate your frustration! Fundraising efforts sometimes cloud the integrity of the brand itself, so the smart organizations are careful not to overdo it. I will give you another post to look at which shows the math of direct mail fundraising: Battles In The Mailbox
      Believe me, they will not spend money if it doesn’t raise the targeted goal at the end of the campaign.
      Just as important however, here is the link for Charity Navigator which reports which organizations are most effective in keeping fundraising expenses low while achieving the funds they require to complete their mission.
      I thank you on behalf of the many fundraisers who successfully use direct mail efficiently. I don’t respond to every solicitation I get, but I do know that over all, the medium works well, and responsibly, or they wouldn’t keep doing it.
      Thanks for writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bety Hilliard says:

    I love your blogs about the fund raising methods organizations use. I would never be able to use all the address labels in my lifetime or several more. Many cards are really pretty but I don’t send many cards. I consult the charity watch dogs frequently and there is a form you can print and send to the orgs asking them to limit/stop mailings, phone calls, or simply remove your name from their mailing list–whether it works for me remains to be seen. I never answer the phone if it is an unknown area code/number and my cable service/phone shows caller ID on the TV screen.


    • Hi Bety! I know how you feel about more labels than you can handle. I put them on everything that I take from the house: cell phone, cell phone charger, CDs, books, golf clubs (there’s 13 of those, but not the golf balls) stapler, scissors, computer– top and inside, camera, computer charger, brief case…you get the idea. The cards are nice, but not my style, so I donate those to Amvets. When I get calls, if I don’t get a “hello” immediately, I hang up. When I was taking care of my mom in her final years, I sent back every solicitation stating “deceased”. She certainly wasn’t, but it stopped the mailings immediately. I still receive all the FR mail, and because I write about it, I send them checks to cover their cost and my remuneration to them.


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