Despite the cliché, “It’s what’s inside that counts,” when it comes to mail and email for fundraising, what’s outside is critical. After all, if your envelope or subject line doesn’t entice a person to keep reading, the content of the message does not matter because it will never be seen.

Too often, we put effort into the letter or eAppeal text, but are rushed for time at the end so we settle for mediocre envelope text or a predictable subject line. By doing so, we’ve deprived the potential donor of any anticipation, and could have pushed them away before they have even had the opportunity to consider becoming part of something bigger than themselves through our organization’s good work.

Instead, fundraisers need to put significant thought into making sure the envelope or subject line is just begging the recipient to take the next step. For an envelope, this doesn’t necessarily mean we have to have a full-color envelope (though there are times that is the best strategic decision), but it does mean that simply tucking our letter into a corporate envelope may not be sufficient. Instead, we need to be asking, “What is going to make this mail piece stand out from the rest of the stack of letters and shout, “Open me!”?

This can be accomplished with a colored (or colorful) envelope; an envelope that is a non-standard size; a strong photo (frequently a close-up of a face making eye contact); a teaser that really intrigues and leaves the casual reader wanting more; a handwritten mailing address; a stamp (as opposed to a printed indicia or meter); or some combination of these techniques. Yes, this adds a small cost to the mailing, but if you can increase the number of people who open the mail – and thus the likelihood of receiving a donation – it’s a cost that is justifiable. Frequently, the only message a standard white window envelope says is “recycle me.” Your goal is an envelope that is simply to compelling to ignore.

The subject line is the “envelope” of your email; it often determines if a person will open the email or click “delete.” It should be short so the compelling message is present even when it is truncated on a phone or tablet, and it should not be overly predictable. “Request for a donation” may be true, but it is not compelling in most cases. Look at your own email inbox; what makes you pause? Of course, it is often messages from friends and favorite brands, but what can you learn from those subject lines that can legitimately be adapted to your own eAppeal?

Our envelope or subject line in an appeal has a huge job – to cause a person to open and read more. Don’t save this component for last; it is too important and it deserves our best creative thinking.