To see the work of great painters, you usually need to go to a museum or art gallery. To read the work of great copywriters — and learn from it — you need only to look through the mail that arrives at your doorstep every day. One masterpiece that has been mailed continuously for about 20 years is the member acquisition effort for Amnesty International.
Crafted by freelancer Jerry Huntsinger, it's evolved over time. A search of Who's Mailing What!, the world's largest library of direct mail and email samples, reveals at least seven different versions have been mailed, and there are certainly more. The latest one, in the mail since 2010, retains the basic elements that make it, in the words of direct mail guru Denny Hatch, "A Powerhouse of Guilt."
The lede is simple: "I regret to inform you that we are faced with a severe crisis here at Amnesty International." After running through a list of places around the world where human rights abuses are occurring, the letter gets to the call to action in the sixth paragraph: sign the enclosed "Message of Hope" card.
The reason for the request is then explained in the account of a former prisoner: "His name is Constantino, and for years he was held in a tiny cell; his only human contact was with his torturers." In one- and two-sentence quotes, he recounts the horrors he faced and how Amnesty eventually ended it: "On Christmas Eve the door to my cell opened, and the guard tossed in a crumpled piece of paper." This is the very same type of card the prospect has in front of them. It's a powerful dose of guilt, one of the seven great copy drivers, that lingers even as the letter continues, describing the terrible acts committed against political prisoners.
The Two Classic Hot Potatoes
Measuring 6" x 6-1/4" when opened, the "Message of Hope" card is cited in the letter as not only a way of reaching out to a prisoner of conscience, but as a means of holding governments accountable. There is no petition listing grievances, just the simple message (in five languages): "Do not be discouraged. You are not forgotten." The donor can add another message besides signing the card (see image in media player).
When combined with the letter's success in tapping into guilt (and some anger as well), this is truly an action device worthy of the name. It builds a relationship between the donor and organization by making him or her a vital part of its work.
The other component, a square sticker, carries the Amnesty logo and name and has mailed both as a peel-and-stick decal and as a window cling.
The New Twists
Personalized name and address labels have been mailed by nonprofits for decades, and Amnesty is no exception. Some past versions of this appeal have included them, although in this iteration, the label sheet shows through a large square window on the front of the #10 envelope, as well as the oversized address window. Among the designs on them are yellow and blue versions of Amnesty's candle-and-barbed wire logo. The letter explains that the labels were sent "as a means of seeking your support and spreading the all-important message of hope."
Raising brand awareness, with a touch of flattery (another great copy driver), is behind another classic back-end premium: the tote bag. From the letter's P.S., "I'll send you a free tote bag to serve as a reminder to everyone of the urgent need to stand up for humanity and of your dedication to protecting human rights." A premium was not part of an Amnesty control effort until now (see image in media player).
The biggest story is that starting this year, on the reply form, the prospective member is given two big choices. "Option 1" is a "one-time new membership gift" with asks from $20 to $1,000. "Option 2" is membership in the monthly sustainer "Partners of Conscience" program, with an ask string from $7 to $20. On page four of the letter, the importance of the monthly giving option to the organization's daily activities is laid out: "you will allow Amnesty to respond immediately" when a need occurs. Amnesty gets a predictable cash flow and can then upgrade members to a higher level (see image in viewer).
(Note: For tips on how to acquire or covert monthly donors, check out Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant by Erica Waasdorp, in our Direct Marketing IQ bookstore.)
Paul Bobnak is the director of research at Who's Mailing What!, which houses the most complete, searchable (and fully online) library of direct mail and mail in the world. To learn more about joining, go to www.whosmailingwhat.com. To reach Paul, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.