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My direct mail fantasy, and other myths


I’ve found the perfect direct mail donor. Her name is Gladys, and she gives to everything I send her, 100% of the time. But I’m not sharing her with you guys.  She’s mine.

When Gladys gets a mailing from me, she does exactly what she’s supposed to do. When she sees my piece of mail in the mailbox, she plucks it right out. I think her heart skips a beat. She walks to a quiet place, where she won’t be disturbed. She gets in a comfortable chair. She turns off her phone.

And when she opens the package? It’s magic. She pulls everything out of the envelope, knowing exactly what to read first. And she pours over every word.  If I write something extra clever in the 5th paragraph, she smiles. If I’ve somehow buried the lead, and placed it on page 2, no problem. She’ll read it. If I don’t ask for the gift strongly enough, she’ll know what I was thinking. And if I don’t thank her enough for plowing through the stack of stuff I’ve sent her, she understands that sometimes I can be forgetful, and she writes out another check anyway.

She’s really special … a fantasy. And that’s the problem. Because she is a fantasy. I wish she existed, but she doesn’t.

Of all the lessons I’ve learned writing copy over the years, the biggest one has nothing to do with actually writing copy: it has to do with human nature. The plain, painful truth is, there is not one person in the world right now, standing by a mailbox, breathlessly waiting for your mailing (or mine) to arrive. People have other things to do. Other people to worry about.

If we’re lucky, they’ll give us three seconds of their time when they pick up that next piece I send them. Maybe five if they really, really care about the mission I’m writing for. And unless I do something immediately that engages them, excites them, interests them, or appeals to them… I’m screwed.

Yes, we’re facing a lot of competition in the mailbox these days. And the mailbox might be the least of our problems. Consider what Gladys and her friends will be doing this next minute (when they should be reading my letter)

  • Sending over 347,000 tweets on Twitter
  • Watching 138,889 hours of Video on Youtube
  • Pouring over 1 million new display ads on the web
  • Conducting 4.1 million searches on Google
  • Placing 4.1 million posts on Facebook

That’s just this minute. And then the same stuff happens again the next minute too. So how do we actually get Gladys’s attention, against all this other stuff?

Let’s talk about it, at the November 16th Lunch and Learn, when Steve Fleshman and I will share a bunch of real world ideas that have worked for both of us and can work for you. Looking forward to seeing you. And please bring Gladys inside if you see her wandering around the hallway. God, I miss her.

Tom Gaffny is the principal of Tom Gaffny Consulting, an agency dedicated to providing breakthrough Strategic and Creative support for America’s best nonprofit organizations. Tom can be reached at or 617-877-3015.