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Ten Commandments of Copy & Design Part I

You Can’t Risk NOT Reading This!

Did you decide to read on?


You’re already on your way to improved fundraising results by just knowing these Ten Commandments. (A quick wrap up of DMAW’s Ten Commandments Lunch & Learn featuring Tom Gaffny and Steve Fleshman.)

Commandment Number 1It’s Not All About YOU!

Sorry. But it’s not. As Tom explains, “99.999999999% of your audience is not standing by their mailbox anxiously waiting for your fundraising package to arrive.”

In addition: the average donor now receives over 50,000 marketing message a month.

And that creates your challenge:

You have about 3 seconds to capture someone’s attention and get them to open your carrier, even less to click on your email. Then, if you’re lucky, you’re going to get about 5 minutes with your package and much less with your email before someone decides to donate … or toss you in the trash.

And that’s why you must make it about them—not you.


One great way is to use stories to put the donor on the front lines of your charitable work.

Others …

Commandments Number 2, 3 and 4 – Make it Personal, Easy to Read and All About the Donor

The one thing people like reading about the most is themselves. And the most important word in any direct marketing piece aside from “FREE” is “YOU.” (or any variation of)

Steve shared a treasure trove of testing results from his time in the commercial world. Among them, personalize everything possible. And make it look real. Like it came from a friend. Or a friendly, like-minded organization anyway.

Make it Easy to Read.

If you’ve got only 3 seconds to get them to read your message, and a mere 5 minutes after that, you want to economize your words. You need to say as much as possible as soon as possible.

Make it Easy to Scan

Your English teacher will be very disappointed in you, and you may have to go to bat against stubborn signers, but if you want the largest number of people to respond, you’ve got to reach them at an 8th or 9th grade level. 6th would even be better.

And make it all about them. Mention how important and special that first gift from them was. How much you’ve valued their continued support. And don’t be afraid to smooooooz.

“On December 2, 2010, you took a bold action that has forever changed the world. You decided to give to … And because you took that action …”

Give your donor the credit for your work. Explain how “your work” “would not be possible” “without people like you.”

Commandment Number 5Marry Great Copy with Great Pictures

It’s all about scale says Steve. Use powerful, large imagery on your carrier, small when it’s warranted, as well as on the letter, inserts and other relative components. And combine the copy and image to work together in unison – thus: having the greatest impact and eliciting the most responses.

In fact, this blog is a marriage of Tom and Steve’s entire presentation, which included 21 commandments. But I didn’t think you’d read anything with that title, so outlines of their separate commandments are listed at the bottom of this blog for your convenience.

Commandment Number 6 … Whack Them Over the Head With …


“You want us to ‘whack our donors over the head?”

“Maybe. Tune in to the next blog to find out.”

To be continued …


10 Commandments of Copy – Tom Gaffny

I – It’s not about you. It’s about the donor.
II – You’re not in the writing business. You’re in the interest-building, motivating and selling business.
III – Make it about the donor – people love reading about themselves, seeing their name in print, and seeing how they are making a difference.
IV – Marry great words with great images
V – If you don’t have a great picture, paint a story with descriptive words.
VI – Whack them with an interrupting thought. Make the teaser, subject, lead memorable and irresistible.
VII – Ask often and early.
VIII – Don’t bury the lead.
IX – Approach each letter, email or social media message with an air of dignity.
X – Remember the 90/10 rule. 10 percent of the words in your direct marketing communications produce 90% of the desired action.


10/11 Commandments of Design – Steve Fleshman

I – Don’t break a multipage letter with the end of a sentence and the bottom of the page. Especially page 1.
II – Live by the Brand – Die by the Brand. Branded fonts and colors are great, but don’t necessarily work in direct marketing. Test to show what works.
III – It’s all about scale. Size does matter.
IV – Make it Personal. Personalize everything possible.
V – Most Important Pieces of Any Package. Carrier/Teaser. Lead. Ask. Closing/P.S. Reply Device. Subject Line. Call to Action.
VI – Go ahead and junk it up. Add components, if you can afford to. Use any means necessary to get your audience members who don’t take immediate action to spend just a few more seconds with your package to entice a response.
VII – R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Respect your donor in all you think, say, write and do.
VIII – Remember Page Gravity. People read left to right, and when skimming from upper left to lower right. Also in an inverted C.
IX – Give your package a back story. Who put it together. Why. Make it believable.
X – Slick is your enemy. As Dolly Parton says, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” And donors won’t give you money if they think you don’t need it.
XI – Disorder Breeds Involvement. Order is great for some standard packages, but for getting someone interested in something they might not be interested in, disorder is worth the test.

Stephen Godbout is a copywriter and creative director with 16 years of direct marketing experience. He can be reached at