Stop Sending So Much Stuff!

Stop Sending So Much Stuff!


27 July 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


We are environmental organizations! We need to STOP sending so much stuff to our donors. They feel overwhelmed! Especially in the mail.

Think about this: the average American household receives 2,000 pieces of “junk” mail every year! If we stop sending stuff now, our members will notice that we are not sending the renewal and appeal mail and the two newsletters. They will appreciate us for it!

In fact, they will love us so much for not sending so much mail that they will double their giving to us this year!

In response to all those renewal notice and appeal letters that … we … didn’t …… send.




Just kidding.


The problem isn’t that we are sending too much. It’s that we are sending the wrong stuff.

In fact, most of us would raise more money if we increased our communication with donors.

You’ve heard of the CEO who demanded that everything put in front of her was limited to a single side of a single page? It forces the writer to limit their communications to single topics, to summarizing, and to simplifying. To being succinct.

Think about applying that same idea to donor communications.


Pro-tip: This blog post is about paper communications, but this idea about single topics, summarizing, simplifying, and being succinct makes for more effective communication in email, too.


The objective is to communicate – not to educate.

And what is the single, most important message to deliver?


Look at all the important things you are doing with your money. Look at the difference you are making.”


Does your newsletter do that? Deliver that message?

Measure the answer to that question by how many people use the envelope you provide to send money. Keep track of the number of gifts that are returned as a key indicator of the general popularity of the material in each issue. And keep track of which issues individual donors are most interested in by which ones they actually respond to.

It isn’t effective communication because you send it. It is effective communication because it engenders a response.


This is NOT easy. Mark Twain famously quipped, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.


SO, at least consider:

  • Sending at least four paper newsletters each year – six if you can handle it.
  • Making each newsletter four pages – a single sheet of 11X17 paper, folded once.
  • Using the entire front page for a photograph of a person (or a close-up of a plant or animal). Use a cut-out to tease the inside stories.
  • Including a response envelope inside. The envelope is a simple, self-addressed return envelope. (You will be surprised how many come back.)
  • Including at least one article written as a first-person testimonial – from a Board member, volunteer, or donor.
  • Including at least one article that refers back to an article appearing in a previous version.
  • Including links (QR codes or bar codes) to resources such as maps and places to go for more information.
  • Including a link to a survey at least once each year. The surveys are short and intended as much for their engagement value as for information. Still you should be able to learn more about what people are interested in using the feedback.
  • Balancing text, white space, and photographs – of people! (The text is written at the 8th grade level, of course.)
  • Using the back page to describe engagement opportunities – field trips, events, volunteer activities – and any special needs the organization has right now, such as a copier or a stewardship truck.
  • Mailing the newsletter inside a large envelope without folding it down further, so it stands out BIG in the mail. Tease the inside with a printed statement such as “Inside: Your personal Land Trust newsletter has been created just for you!”


Pro-tip: Because the envelopes in each issue will look substantially alike, print (or stamp) a source code on each one. For a low-tech alternative, take a black felt tip marker and draw a line down the side of a stack of envelopes, making a small mark along the edge of each one. The placement of the mark will help you tell which issue the envelope came from.


And while we’re right there, I’ll tell you that my bias is that we send newsletters to everyone who gives money and to anyone who asks for one on an issue-by-issue basis. We should not send newsletters to people who stopped giving ten years ago, or whose only interaction with us has been to come to one of our events.


After all, that would be a waste of paper.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.



Photo by Tobias Keller courtesy of


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  • David Lillard
    Posted at 08:57h, 28 July

    Really terrific summer reading, D.A.! Excellent template, and I love, “the objective is to communicate, not educate.” On QR codes: they do seem to be making a comeback, after once thought to be dead. Used in companion with a URL, as in, “Check out our new maps at or scan here.”

  • alison
    Posted at 13:12h, 27 July

    Two questions – as more people shift to online giving how can we track what they are responding to, if what they are responding to is print? I always make my donations online even after receiving a print appeal. Second, is there any research that the use of QR codes has gone up, particularly since covid (since they’re being used as restaurant menu’s now). I know my phone doesn’t read them automatically like some do. I’m sure there is some app somewhere I can download but I never bother with them. We use them in our marketing and they get very low if any usage. Do we think it will improve now that people are more used to them?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 13:30h, 27 July

      Alison –
      Great questions and thank you for asking them. The only real answer to the first question is timing. If gifts come in online within two or three weeks of a newsletter (or appeal letter) going out, it’s a good bet the gift was in response. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. You can get creative with multiple landing pages and using QR codes to get someone to the correct one, but that might end up being more complicated than you wish to be. Keep in mind that the analysis is qualitative and pretty darn good educated guesses are probably enough.
      I have NOT seen any current research on QR codes, but I can tell you anecdotally that I am seeing them more and more frequently. I’ll look around.
      Again – Thank you for writing!

  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 08:32h, 27 July

    Boy! You had me going there for a minute, David! 🙂 Nice article! I’m happy to say that we’ve been implementing a lot of these suggestions already!