When using an envelope as part of your direct mail strategy, the advice your mother gave you as a child “It’s what is on the inside that matters” doesn’t apply.

If you can’t get your reader to open the envelope, it doesn’t matter what is on the inside. Your outer envelope should hold just enough detail and uniqueness to stand out in the mailbox and intrigue the reader to see what’s inside. Consider the envelope a critical part of your strategy, it is important to maximize your efforts when creating it.

The challenge is to have your envelope stand out while being cost effective.

It takes some creativity that is for sure. How many of us would like to put a message on the outer envelope that reads “Dear Reader, just so you know…we can put a full color picture and fancy type on our envelope for the same price as putting our logo and return address on it, which is required by the Post Office.”

So what can be done to your outer envelope to increase the chances of it getting opened? There are no right answers to this question without testing and a full understanding of content and your audience. Working at an organization that mails millions of envelopes a year, I can share some cost effective ideas that we see repeated by both nonprofit and for profit groups.

The Real Estate. Many don’t realize how much available space there is on an envelope for messaging. Most addressing equipment, along with the USPS require 4-3/4” x 2-1/4” for the addressing standards. This includes the address to which you are mailing and the barcode. Then consider the rule of thumb of keeping your return address “above and to the left” of your mailing address and the permit “above and to the right” of your mailing address; you will see there is a lot of empty space to occupy.

Tease. Tease. Tease. Mal Warwick sums up some great ideas in his book “How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals”.  Offering caution and advantages in each, consider adding these call-to-actions to your envelope:

  • Contents. “Matching opportunity enclosed.”
  • Urgency. “Your response is needed before May 30th.”
  • Storyline. “At age 4, she walks five miles for fresh water daily.”
  • Challenge. “Take this simple quiz to learn more.”
  • Premium. “Order form is enclosed.”
  • Question. “Is your water green too?”
  • Curiosity. “Why do they want to know your name?”
  • Advantages. R.S.V.P.

Teasers can be personalized on your envelope for very little cost if done while addressing. The personalized information just needs to be contained within the mail list data. Consider bolding it or using colors to make it stand out.

Flip Flopping. That is right; try printing your message on the front side of the envelope and address on the backside where the flap closes. This allows for the front side to contain a large graphic or message. It forces your reader to take that second look because of the change in direction while opening.

Postmarks. The three most popular ways to apply postage to your envelope is a preprinted permit, applying a postage stamp or using a meter strip. But you can make your piece a little unique by applying multiple stamps, putting a message right next to your preprinted permit, or applying a pre-canceled mark over your stamp or permit. It’s always smart to allow additional time for approval from the USPS to make sure your envelope design is acceptable. You can learn specifics at pe.usps.com.

Always consider your message and whom you are sending it to and don’t be afraid to try something different! Ask yourself…what would make that potential donor or prospect take that second look? Subscribe to our Nonprofits Insight eNewsletter for more great tips and contact us for personalized ‘push the envelope’ ideas.

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