Saving Bees With the Ultimate Direct Mail Freemium

Direct mail freemiums can seem pretty dull after a while when you’ve seen as many as I have over the years at Who’s Mailing What! But sometimes a tactic — a simple packet of seeds — makes me sit up and take notice … and it all started with dying bees.

Direct mail freemiums  can seem pretty dull after a while when you’ve seen as many as I have over the years at Who’s Mailing What! Address labels, notepads, calendars, stickers … you can argue about how much real value they provide to donors these days. And, even knowing that they still lift response for many nonprofits, I might agree with you.

But sometimes a tactic — a simple packet of seeds — makes me sit up and take notice … and it all started with dying bees.

The collapse in honeybee populations in recent years is a big story because it has implications beyond the intrinsic worth of an animal species. Besides providing honey, bees pollinate the crops that provide a third of American food. Yes, a third. That’s a lot of nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

Bees_01Originally I wanted to write about how environmental groups are fundraising around this crisis. I had gathered mail from Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Earthjustice, and intended to compare outers, letters, incentives, etc.

Then, a #10 envelope from the Sierra Club was dropped on my desk.

SierraC_01There’s nothing like a short teaser in a distressed typeface (“BUZZ KILL”) and a large image of a dead bee to immediately grab your attention.

This member acquisition effort centers on how the usage of certain pesticides is threatening farms and businesses because it is also killing bees. The letter and inserts name the culprits, and there’s a brief petition to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the reply form to push for a legislative remedy.

So in most respects, Sierra Club isn’t doing anything different from its colleagues named earlier, with one exception: this envelope includes a “BEE FEED Flower Mix.”

SCSeeds_01As the packet says, these seeds are for flowers that “provide nectar and pollen to wild bees, honey bees, and other pollinators.” Besides growing instructions, the back of the pack lists the ingredients: seeds for California Poppy, Blue Flax, New England Aster, etc.

Seeds have long been included in direct mail packages, but purely as an incentive to donate. Any connection to a group’s specific message or appeal has been tangential at best.

Here, the seed packet is a powerful involvement device, not a reward. It gives the recipient something literally hands-on to do: plant seeds for flowers that will save bees. It doesn’t get any more practical or relevant to the mission than that.

Also, like other elements mailed by advocacy groups, it makes the contributor a partner in the mission. Instead of a “street team,” you’re part of the garden team.

As the letter puts it: “Before long, we’ll provide plenty of clean, healthy, unpoisoned food for bees. We’ll regenerate the bees and the planet.”

The front and back of the packet also contain reassurances that the seeds are untreated and non-GMO, important considerations for much of the target audience for this mailer.

One slight criticism: the call to action (to use the seeds) appears three times in the letter, but nowhere on the reply form. Even with a lot going on there, it’s another opportunity to connect the dots for the donor.

You know that old parable about the kid throwing beached starfish back into the water?

A packet of seeds may not seem like that much either, but it will still make a difference.

3 thoughts on “Saving Bees With the Ultimate Direct Mail Freemium”

  1. Seeds have long been used as freemiums with success, but somehow they slipped off the radar. This useful article will remind those of us who have used seeds to think of doing so more often and give the idea to others who have never tried. Kudos to the author.

  2. Thanks, Bob! You reminded me of this one (see attached) from World Vision. It ran for 4 years in the early 2000s, but you had to send the seeds back.

  3. Great post, really enjoyed the read, particularly the placement of the ‘call to action’.We’re a printing company and we understand the importance of getting the right message to the right individual to increase response rates. We’ve also recently invested in the very latest software and technology to produce targeted mailings using both variable text and images, so this blog was a really useful read, thank you, Paul!
    If you’re interested in what we do, please visit –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *