How many solicitations did you receive during the holidays? It seems like the mailbox — and email inbox — are increasingly overstuffed every year. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to it all after a while.

Breaking through the clutter is an ongoing problem. So what’s a worthy nonprofit organization to do?

St. Vladimir’s Seminary is no exception in their fundraising needs. They depend on their supporters to carry out their mission of attracting and educating Orthodox seminarians.

The seminary has a rich and layered history, and their marketing pieces often reflect that. They make use of detailed stories and richly-colored visuals to communicate their message. Results had been fairly good with this approach, but…

I wondered what would happen if we simplified the process this year. Rather than a 4-page letter with accompanying photos folded to fit in a 6″ x 9″ envelope, plus a separate insert that explained current financial needs (see above), what if the seminary sent a simple ‘Christmas card’ to their constituents?

The design for the 2019 Christmas appeal was a 5” x 7” three-panel design. It featured a stunning hand-painted contemporary icon by SDn. Vladimir Grygorenko ( that showed through a translucent vellum envelope — a visual that already separated this envelope from the mass of others in people’s mailboxes. The President of the seminary crafted a brief message for the inside the card, ending with the customary ‘ask.’ A simple infographic communicated facts and figures about the cost of educating seminarians.

Would this experiment pay off?

I’m happy to report that revenue for the 2019 Christmas appeal was up 21% over the previous year, and the response rate was a gratifying 18% (the average direct mail response rate nationwide is between 5% and 9%).

This appeal’s excellent outcome was the result of plenty of back-and-forth communication with the client. We analyzed past results, refined mailings lists, and paid attention to information collected from their donors.

While there are many variables in direct mail solicitations, keeping the message simple and straightforward when potential donors have so much on their minds helped this appeal exceed the Seminary’s ambitious goals.

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