Pro-Tip: Envelopes Matter

Pro-Tip: Envelopes Matter


22 September 2020


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Here’s a great idea that deserves another mention:

Send $50 to five different organizations you admire.

It will cost your land trust $250, and it will take about half an hour.

But for that investment, you will see every piece of paper and every email those organizations send to their members and donors for the next several years. You’ll see their:

  • Renewal notices
  • Appeal letters
  • E-News
  • Annual Reports
  • Special event invitations


Everything. Consider it an idea bank. And next year, send $50 to five more.


Pro-Tip: You don’t need to renew.


I’ve done this for years, and I see a lot of land trust mail as a result. One organization I like a lot is the Openlands out of Chicago. Openlands newsletters, annual reports, and the like comes in oddly shaped envelopes. 6”X6” squares mostly. Super recognizable in the mail, and very difficult NOT to open.


More than half of those who receive your Fall appeal won’t open it. And at least part of the reason will be the envelope. The shape, the color, the return address, the graphic design, and so on.


Pro-Tip: Send follow-up letters and appeals. It is better and more accurate to assume that people who do not respond to your solicitations never saw them. In other words, they aren’t saying NO.


So, consider shaking it up this year. Send more than one letter. Send at least an appeal letter and a follow-up. And at least consider sending a second follow-up. (NOT to those who responded of course.)

For each solicitation, pay just as much attention to the envelope as you do to the letter and contents. For example:

  • Sending your appeal in an odd sized envelope could help it get noticed – and opened – in the mail. Odd sizes are more expensive than standard #10s, but if they get noticed……
  • Send one of the letters using a BLUE envelope, or a GREEN envelope, or a BROWN envelope, or an envelope made from elephant dung.
  • Print or hand sign your name under (or superimposed over) the organization’s return address. Make it come from a real person rather than from the “faceless” institution.
  • Print a photo or a map or a large line graphic on the flap-side of the envelope.
  • Print a small graphic on the front of the envelope.
  • Use “teaser” copy on the front side. “Three things you can do right NOW for climate resiliency.” “The favor of your reply by December 31 is requested.”


Each of these ideas are more expensive than standard #10s, but if they get noticed……


At some level, fundraising is about the NET return, more so than actual cost. If increasing the cost to produce the appeals by $500 results in more people opening it, more people reading it, more people responding, and $1,000 more in returns, it arguably will have been worthwhile.

This NET RETURN is something you can test. Mail something different – try one of these ideas – to 25% of your mailing list and see if you get measurably different results.


Pro-Tip: And just when you think you’ve got everything figured out again, try sending your appeal in an absolutely plain envelope – nothing on it except for the address and a stamp.


Have you done something interesting with your envelopes? What have you tried? What have you learned?


Pro-Tip: Stay safe and stay well,




Photo by World Wildlife courtesy



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  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 10:12h, 22 September

    Carol, have you really used those elephant dung envelopes?! Love the innovation…

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:24h, 22 September

    Elephant dung has worked well for us!