Source: Nonprofit Times by Herschell Gordon Lewis

Do you remember Popeye? According to Wikipedia it is still out there, as a comic strip, although the animated cartoons that used to be theatrical short subjects are quiescent.

Popeye has had a good life – about 80 years since a cartoonist named Elzie Segar whose logo, logically, was a cigar, invented the Sailor Man. Popeye’s everlasting and memorable key words: “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” For Popeye, who made spinach the choice of kids who wanted “muskles,” the line worked. For envelope copy used by some of today’s nonprofit mailers, it’s dullness cloaked with clichés.

No secret to any reader of this publication: Direct mail is having a surprising renaissance. The reasons are murky. Maybe it’s because the web is overused. Maybe it’s because nonprofits need greater competitive justifications for appeals than in the pre-Internet era. But whatever the basis, fundraising has returned to the mail. A lost art?

Everybody in the profession should know and observe The Rule of Envelope Copy. No creative imperative is easier or more logical … The purpose of copy on the carrier envelope is singular: to get the envelope opened. If you accept the logic of that simple rule, you automatically reject this copy on the envelope of an organization’s mailing to prospects: “2011 XXXX MEMBERSHIP CARD ENCLOSED!”

Hold it. You say you see nothing wrong with that copy? Well, what if you knew it’s a window envelope? Does that affect your reaction? What if you knew the envelope has two windows? What if you didn’t notice the exclamation point? What if this were a contest, and even knowing nothing about what’s inside the envelope you were challenged to write a better legend for the envelope?

Window envelopes often are an economic necessity, because a closed-face envelope means the nonprofit mailer has to choose between omitting the name from the letter and/or the response device, which tends to reduce response, or suffering the cost of printing the name on both the envelope and an enclosure.

So copy on a window envelope shouldn’t say, “I yam what I yam and dat’s all I yam.” It has to say to the recipient, “Open me or you’ll be sorry.” That’s professionalism. That’s an art.

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