TrueSense Marketing  ●  6/4/2018

Creative Experts Discuss Salvation Army Direct Mail Appeals Part 2

Jennifer Miller (Creative Director), Matt Lorenz (Art Director), and Alan Hyams (Senior Copywriter), have a collective 40 years of experience in direct mail.  They sat down to discuss the thinking behind the direct mail packages they craft for TrueSense Marketing’s Salvation Army clients.  This is part two of their three-part series.  You can read the first part here.


  • Jen: Let’s talk about what kind of photos we feature in our Salvation Army appeals.  By appeals, I mean everything from acquisition (where we’re trying to get new donors) to cultivation (where we’re retaining, engaging, and stewarding donors).  So Matt, why do we choose the photos we choose, and what kind of photos do we look for?
  • Matt: An image is worth a thousand words, right?  The right photo can have as much impact as carefully written copy.  We look for photos of people, and a photo that connects the donor to your core story — to the need, and to the solution.
  • Alan: You don’t want somebody who looks too happy, because you don’t want them to look as if there’s no problem.  At the same time, you also don’t want anything that’s too downcast or depressing, because you want the donor to feel like they can make a difference.  You see this on a lot of the faces that we choose.  Somebody’s been helped or somebody will be getting the help, and there’s hope.  That’s a word we use a lot, too: hope.
  • Matt: I agree.  The right photo should capture the heart and soul.
  • Jen: Fundraising is about need.  That’s the entire point.  So, we want to present photos to donors where it looks like there’s a problem that they can solve, and that they’re going to be part of the solution through their giving.  That’s why we typically look for photos that portray some sense of need versus happy, outcome-based photos.
  • Alan: Sometimes we’re asked to show photos of buildings instead of people.  We know that that’s not going to resonate with the donor.  We want a photo of one or just a few people, because that’s more relatable to a donor than a large group.  This goes also toward the whole concept of a donor being heroic and helping another person, rather than an organization talking about the hundreds or thousands of people it’s helping.  One compelling face, whether it’s a child or a senior, is going to be much more motivating than a picture of a building.
  • Jen: That’s a great point.  Absolutely true.  The photo is the emotional gut punch, right?
  • Matt: Yes.  When donors see the right photo, it compels them to read more and to do something.  In this case, make a donation.
  • Jen: I think the pensive look that we like to go for in our photography also has to do with the fact that we never want to veer into the territory of exploiting a photo for the sake of raising money.  We never want to feel like we’re manipulating the donor to raise money, because that’s inauthentic.  And that’s not who The Salvation Army is.  So, there is a big judgment call we have to make about photo usage, right, Matt?
  • Matt: Definitely.  We want to motivate with hope rather than fear.
  • Jen: Matt, let’s talk about the content that we’re able to use from The Richards Group, The Salvation Army’s branding agency partner.
  • Matt: The Salvation Army is one of the most recognized and effective brands in the industry.  Thanks to The Richards Group, we’ve been able to utilize this robust resource of strong photography and a powerful visual support system.  A lot of their photos have a very dramatic appeal to them.  They focus on the eyes.  There’s not too much noise, which is what we call background texturing.
  • Jen: Their photos really tell a story.  Speaking of stories, let’s talk about the story of the offers we use.  Offers are a very important part of the success of a direct mail campaign.  Yes, it’s about helping the donor solve a problem, but also the value of what their gift will do.  So Alan, talk a little bit about offer and that three-pronged approach TrueSense uses.
  • Alan: When you’re asking somebody for money, you want to make it very clear to them exactly what their gift is going to do.  Our three-pronged approach involves cost, impact, and urgency … and these all work together.  Cost is the price tag — the money you’re asking donors to part with to solve a problem.  The impact ties directly into the cost, because this is what their gift is going to do (or help do), whether it’s going to feed somebody, provide shelter, help somebody recover from drug addiction, or any one of a lot of different things that The Salvation Army does.  The urgency is why this is so important, why we need you to give now.  All of these work together to make a compelling case.
  • Jen: With respect to cost, there’s also a cost of not giving, right?  That’s the implied subtext of the offer, as well.
  • Matt: Exactly.  So when you think about the direct mail package holistically, you have that visually compelling photo, the copy that pulls you in, and an offer that shows specificity and value to the donor.
  • Jen: When those work together, it really does make it easier to show the donor how she can be a hero and do something good through her support.


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