Two of the greatest fundraising letters ever written

Denny Hatch tells the fascinating and at times troubling story of Covenant House and its remarkable fundraising campaigns.

Written by
Denny Hatch
Added
July 23, 2020
Fr. Bruce Ritter, Founder, Covenant House

The ‘Dirty Lady’ and ‘Paint Can’ Letters

This is the absolutely true story of how a huge direct marketing organisation – built on powerful, evocative copy – came within a whisker of losing its credibility and its revenue, and how it clawed its way back to viability and regained the trust it had lost.

In 1990, Covenant House, a shelter for homeless children, was a vast enterprise made up 17 centres in the United States, Canada and Latin America with a file of 1.2 million donors and an annual budget of $87 million. The New York Times pointed out that this was three times what the federal government was spending on similar programs.

The secret of the amazing success of Covenant House was entirely due to the genius of 62-year-old Franciscan Father Bruce Ritter, a highly compassionate – yet, at the same time a very dangerous – human being.

Arguably, Bruce Ritter was one of three or four greatest direct mail copywriters of the late twentieth century.

What follows is one of Ritter’s early letters – the ‘Dirty Lady’ letter that was mailed repeatedly for years and turned Covenant House into a fundraising behemoth. It arrived in this plain white #10 window envelope – no teaser, no fanfare – with a nonprofit-metered indicia. 

The power of a good story

Freelance direct mail writer Harry B. Walsh suggested this double prescription for a successful letter:

     ‘The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer’s skill can make it.

     Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd but rather murmurs into a single ear. It’s a message from one letter writer to one letter reader.

     Tell a story if possible. Everybody loves a good story, be it about Peter Rabbit or King Lear. And the direct mail letter with its unique person-to-person format is the perfect vehicle for a story. Stories get read. The letter I wrote to launch the Cousteau Society 20-some years ago has survived hundreds of tests against it... The original of this direct mail Methuselah started out with the lead: "A friend once told me a curious story I would like to share with you...."’

Most consultants and writers teach that a letter should begin with offer and benefits that should be restated at least three times in the course of the letter along with several calls to action.

However, in the fundraising arena, all bets are off.

Interrupt!

Direct mail is also an interruptive medium. To be successful, a letter must interrupt and keep on interrupting until some action is taken. Chances are, if an interruption to the interruption occurs – for example the reader lays aside the letter for any reason – the sale will be lost. Unlike a novel, it’s hard to pick up a direct mail letter and have the emotional fire rekindled. More likely, it will disappear under the sports pages and the whole thing will end up in the recycling bin.

As the late Elsworth Howell, founder of Grolier Enterprises, pointed out: ‘Direct mail is basically an impulse sale.’

In order to be interruptive, direct mail letters purposely break the rules of English we learned in school. You will see short paragraphs – never more than seven lines long – the use of ellipses, underlined subheads, indented paragraphs, bullets, check marks and even handwritten notes in the margins. 

All of these tricks are designed to avoid the grey walls of type that you find in a book, newspaper or magazine and, instead, keep the reader’s eye moving.

Bruce Ritter invented some techniques of his own. For example, look at his lead sentence:

     A lady should never get this dirty, she said.

Where are the quotation marks?  Doesn’t this violate the grammar we were taught in grade school?  Ah... but wouldn’t little black flecks dotted around the words mar this hard diamond of prose reminiscent of the early Hemingway?

And what of of big words like ‘incomparably’ and ‘surreptitious’? Shouldn’t direct mail be written at a fifth grade level, like TIME and Newsweek?

You cannot quarrel with any facet of this letter; it brought in too much money over too long a time.

We can’t judge good direct mail; it judges us.

The seeds of scandal

So much for Ritter’s copywriting technique.

Hemingway once said the greatest asset a writer could have was a shockproof, built-in shit detector. When I first read the “dirty lady” letter, the red flag of my detector gave a feeble wave, as though a faint, cold breeze blew on the back of my neck that should have been a premonition of the whirlwind to follow.

No one word or phrase jumped out. But the letter has an undercurrent of sensuality. Isn’t he really ogling these children?  For example, he refers to the children as ‘beautiful’, not once, not twice, but three times and talks of hugs twice including a ‘surreptitious’ hug. Why surreptitious? If you hug a kid, you hug a kid. The first definition of surreptitious in Webster’s Third is ‘marked or accomplished by fraud or suppression of truth.’ Here’s how the word might be used in fiction:

After the prom, they stood in the doorway of her house and she tilted her face up for a good-night kiss. Their lips met and he surreptitiously brushed her tongue with his.

Calamity!

On December 12, 1989, The New York Post – a tabloid that feeds on the sensational – broke the story of Kevin Lee Kite, described as a 25-year-old drifter and former male prostitute, who alleged that Fr. Ritter brought him to New York the previous February. Shortly thereafter, Kite alleged they began a sexual relationship. Ritter claimed he was Kite’s ‘mentor’ and nothing more.

At the same time New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams began an investigation into financial improprieties at the shelter. In addition, Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau was looking into allegations that Fr. Ritter had spent Covenant House funds on Kite for his personal benefit and, more sensationally, that someone at Covenant House obtained a false ID for Kite in the name of a Jamestown, N.Y., boy who had died in 1980.

The story took over the New York media.  Nightly, it was the lead story on the local TV news and got continuing front-page coverage in all the papers. National media picked it up and sensationalised it.

Covenant House revenues took a dive

Mailers cancelled orders for the rental of Covenant House names, which put another dent in the organisation’s income. Other mailers refused Covenant House access to their lists, which meant no prospecting efforts could go out. Even if mailings went out, they would have lost big money during this controversy, because regular donors were reserving judgment; they were holding back to see what how the story played out.

Revenues slowed to a trickle. It was the holiday season, which would ordinarily account for a huge proportion of the year’s income. One list broker who handled the account told a friend, ‘I wake up every morning with a renewed sense of dread.’

 At Covenant House, a siege mentality set in. Ritter hung tough. He had always run the organisation autocratically as his private fiefdom and this was no different. He was still in charge. Most important, he controlled the mailing lists. On December 18th – less than a week after the story broke, he attempted damage control with a letter to his contributors. His salutation was one he frequently used to contributors:

December 18, 1980

Hello, my friends,

      Please, it’s vital that you read this letter. Vital to me, to our kids, to Covenant House.

      “It’s been the worst week of my life...” That’s how I began the press conference I called to deal with the swirling controversy that threatens me and Covenant House.

      I don’t think anybody could have missed the sensational coverage in the New York Post, and then in the newspapers and on all the radio and TV stations for the past week. It’s why I’m writing to you today.

      A young man who convinced us that he had close ties to organized crime, prostitution and drug rings came to Covenant House for help.  He was scared to death.  We put him in the safe house in New York--an apartment we had available for that purpose in a building filled with nuns and priests, and owned by Covenant House.  We arranged for a college scholarship and provided all the help we could.

      Because of the need to protect the young man we provided a new identity and an instant family of friends to give him the emotional support he needed--most of them drawn from my personal staff and the staff of our Youth Advocacy Institute that operates the safe-house program.

      The young man has accused me and Covenant House of financial improprieties in providing that care, in order to have a sexual relationship with him.

      I categorically deny both allegations.

      They are not true. I will be totally and completely exonerated and vindicated when Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, completes his investigation.  Mr. Morgenthau has warned the press that serious inaccuracies and misinformation in the press reports have damaged Covenant House and my reputation.

      We pray that the investigation proceeds swiftly and that the results be published as widely as the scurrilous attacks on me.

      It has been a time of extraordinary pain and grief for me.  I have said many times that I do not really care what happens to me. I decided that long ago.

      What happens to the kids is important.  What happens to Covenant House is important.  Sadly, attacks on me hurt both immeasurably.

      As I said to the dozens of reporters at the press conference where I attempted to answer every question put to me as completely and honestly as I could:  what hurts me more than anything else is the thought that the millions of people who have cared about my kids and helped them may have their faith in me, and the Church, shattered because of these vicious allegations.

      The pain is almost more than I can bear.  Were it not for the unwavering support of my family, Cardinal O'Connor and my fellow Franciscan Friars, the members of my Board, my incredibly loyal staff, many friends in the media, hundreds of faithful supporters, and most of all, my kids at Covenant House, I’m not sure I could have gotten through it once again, I am humbled to know that so many people love me.

      And yet, the cloud of suspicion will inevitably, in the minds of some, hang over me and Covenant House until the investigation is completed.  Mr. Morgenthau has promised to proceed as quickly as a complete and diligent examination can permit. I beg for your faith, and your patience.

      Please do not judge harshly this troubled young man who brought this firestorm of grief and controversy on me.  I would welcome him if he came back.  His own suffering, throughout most of his incredibly exploited life, has been immense, and I and my staff were unable to reach him.

      How I wish I could have helped him more.  I trusted my own ability and experience too much.  I should have taken more exacting care to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  But, after years of caring about and living with thousands of kids--cooking their meals, doing their laundry, cleaning the toilets...

      I misread the agony and pain in his life, and the anger. Please pray for him, as I do.

      Pray for me too.  Only my absolute faith that God would not and could not abandon His kids whom He loves so much, has gotten me through so far--that and the faith and support and love of my friends.

                        Peace,

                   /s/  Fr. Bruce

                        Fr. Bruce Ritter

P.S.  We have made an unedited videotape of the entire press conference and would like to make it available to you.  If you want a copy, please call 1-800-388-3888.  We have a limited number of copies and would appreciate your sending it back when you are through.

      You might also be interested in what one local columnist had to say about these most difficult times at Covenant House.

      Please do not abandon our kids--they are good and brave and beautiful young people who need your prayers and support now more than ever.

A tip-off

Like the surreptitious hug in the “dirty lady” letter, Ritter dropped a clue in this one as to what the final outcome inexorably would be: 

    ‘I should have taken more exacting care to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.’

It was obviously written hurriedly and hardly vintage Ritter copy. Enclosed with the letter was the reprint of a Newsday article by columnist Dennis Duggan titled, ‘A Good Man Smeared With Rumor’s Mud’. Ritter still had supporters, but, like Covenant House revenues, they were dwindling down to a precious few.

The controversy raged on for weeks as the investigations continued. Revenues continued to plummet. The viability of the entire Covenant House organization was in dire jeopardy.

On January 24th, The Village Voice reported that a 33-year-old Seattle man and former Covenant House resident, John P. Melican, had accused Ritter of having a sexual relationship with him.

On February 6th, The New York Times reported on allegations made by Darryl J. Bassile, 31, of Ithaca, New York, who claimed he had been lured into a sexual relationship with Fr. Ritter when he was at Covenant House in his mid-teens. Kite, Bassile and Melican did not know each other, yet their descriptions of Ritter’s predatory practices jibed.

The following day, February 7, 1990, Ritter was forced out.

Picking up the pieces

This is as much a story about public relations and crisis management as it is about great direct mail copy. Ritter had founded a vast organization with an $87 million budget and then used it to cruise for underage sexual partners who would cater to his pederasty.

Ritter was gone. But, clearly, decisive action had to be taken immediately, or Covenant House would be toast and thousands of kids turned out on the mean streets.

As a temporary replacement for Ritter, New York City Schools Chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola agreed to step in. The organisation struggled to stay in business. Not until six months later was some modicum of closure achieved.

Again, a plain white #10 envelope was mailed. This time, the Covenant House logo was missing from the corner card. Instead, it read simply:

346 West 17th Street

New York, New York 10011

The envelope went out First-Class Presort, which meant the organisation did not take advantage of the non-profit mailing rate to which it was entitled.  Clearly, the Board of Directors wanted this letter out fast:

RALPH A. PFEIFFER, JR.

COVENANT HOUSE

346 West 17th Street

New York, NY 10011-5002

Chairman of the Board                                                 

                                        August 6, 1990

Dear Friend,

     Just a few days ago, we released the findings of the special five-month investigations into Covenant House, which were initiated at the request of the Board of Directors. You may have already seen or heard portions of these reports in the media.

     In keeping with the promise I made to you last March, I’m writing to present a detailed synopsis of the investigations.

     Good and bad, I want to share the findings with you.  As someone who’s generously supported Covenant House, you deserve nothing less.

     Let me explain the investigative process.  In March 1990, the Covenant House Board of Directors authorized the following reviews of our operations:

 • We retained a new General Counsel, Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Robert McGuire, former New York City Police Commissioner and his firm, Kroll Associates, to investigate any and all allegations of misconduct or impropriety at Covenant House.

• Richard Shinn, the former Chairman and CEO of Metropolitan Life, examined the Covenant House compensation program salary administration and related personnel issues.

• The public accounting firm of Ernst and Young conducted an independent review of financial controls and procedures at Covenant House.

• The Child Welfare League was appointed to review Covenant House’s New York childcare program.

• An Oversight Committee was established to oversee the investigations, evaluate the results and to make recommendations to the Board of Directors.

     The investigations centered on two broad areas: First, allegations of misconduct against Father Ritter and other staff.  Second, into Covenant House, itself.

     The first allegations against Father Ritter centered on charges of sexual and financial improprieties.  Let me share with you the exact wording of some of the conclusions of the investigations.

     “The cumulative evidence discovered by Kroll in the course of its investigation that Father Ritter engaged in sexual activities with certain residents and made sexual advances toward certain members of the Faith Community is extensive...Moreover, all of the allegations taken together show a generally consistent pattern of conduct.”

     I can only imagine what you’re feeling right now.  All of us -- the kids, the volunteers, our counselors and staff -- share those feelings.

     The report also discusses the Franciscan Charitable Trust established by Father Ritter, to which Covenant House made contributions.  While we expect the assets of the Trust will be donated to Covenant House, the Report finds that the contributions should not have been made without the Board’s knowledge.

     Please know that over the past several months the Board has adopted a policy, which ensures that this will never happen again.

     You should also know that since the beginning of the year, the Board has added eight new directors, while eight other directors have resigned.  In addition, the Board has adopted new by-laws and a number of policy and procedural reforms including a prohibition on loans to officers and directors and a requirement that the Board approve any other loans.

     A controversy which was given much prominence in the media, centered on contracts that Father Ritter awarded to his niece and her husband, for decorating and construction projects at Covenant House.

     Even though the Report concludes that there was no abuse of funds in this matter, we have taken steps to ensure that this kind of conflict of interest will never occur again. Specifically, new provisions have been adopted ensuring that no such transaction can occur unless approved by the Board of Directors.

     Now let me address the investigations into Covenant House programs and practices.

     The Kroll investigation “uncovered no evidence of any irregularities or operational deficiencies relating to Covenant House’s collection and safeguarding of donor contributions.”

     Moreover, Ernst and Young found that “there was an adequate level of control consciousness, that financial accounting and reporting systems were designed to provide management with sufficient, accurate and timely information to manage the organization and that further improvements were planned.”  Some minor deficiencies in the petty cash, cash disbursements and payroll systems were also found.

     As for the use of salary compensation, Mr. Richard Shinn concluded that:

     “In developing a salary structure, the management of Covenant House has been very thorough and detailed in its analysis.”  His report concluded by saying “simply stated, the approach and implementation of management has been professional and reflects fair compensation.”

     The final investigation centered around the independent review of our programs conducted by the Child Welfare League. In summary, it was found that “such programs are generally well-conceived, appropriately structured” and are “an irreplaceable resource to the City of New York and a sound model for delivering critically needed services to a population that is otherwise seriously underserved.”

     I’ve enclosed a statement from the Oversight Committee and a summary of the Report.  I hope you’ll read them.

     In closing, I just want to thank you for your prayers and continued support.  I know only too well how difficult this has been over the past several months.

     I know we’ve said this to you many times before, but Covenant House wouldn’t be here without the help of good people like you.

I hope you will join me in reaffirming our commitment to the care of street kids who so desperately need our help.

              Sincerely,

         /signed

              Ralph A. Pfeiffer, Jr.

              Chairman of the Board.

Also included in the mailing:


Textbook crisis management

Once Ritter and his Board of puppets were gone, Covenant House did everything right, starting with a Blue Ribbon Oversight Board:

• William Ellinghaus, President and CEO of AT&T, EVP Board of Directors, New York Stock Exchange, Life Trustee of Mt. Sinai Hospital

• Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame for 35 years, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

• Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, social justice activist in Christian-Jewish Relations, VP White House Conference of Children and Youth, Board Member American Jewish World Service, International Rescue Committee

• Cyrus Vance, Former Secretary of State and former Secretary of the Army (shown here with Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.)

• Paul Volker, Former Chair of the Federal Reserve

When celebrities of this calibre say: ‘We believe that Covenant House, under its new and energetic leadership and with the changes put in place in recent months, deserves the public’s confidence and support’, the media and donors have to listen.

Covenant House business management

In the 1980s, Bruce Ritter realised that he could not run both Covenant House and do all the fundraising, so he contracted with Epsilon of Burlington, Massachusetts, to handle the direct marketing. Under the very capable direction of John E. Groman, Epsilon maintained the database, executed the mailings and even had some of its creative people go up against Father Ritter.

With Ritter’s departure,  Epsilon – together with Fr. Ritter’s replacement – Sr. Mary Rose McGeady, herself a brilliantly intuitive direct marketer – picked up the fallen torch and fanned the flame back to viability.

Replacing Ritter as chief copywriter was Epsilon’s Tom Gaffney who, in chatting with Sister Mary Rose, jotted down notes about one of the Covenant House residents. The result was this masterpiece that rivals Ritter for effect... and effectiveness. It was control for a number of years. It was printed in black-and-white on Covenant House letterhead:

You’re going to have trouble believing this letter.

I mean, what I’m about to tell you is so strange and incredible, you’ll never forget it.

But please understand that

EVERY SINGLE WORD OF THIS STORY IS TRUE!!!

I’m really praying you’ll take a few minutes to read it.

Thank you.

Dear Friend

     She came to our front door Tuesday morning, dressed in dirty rags, holding a little aluminum paint can in he arms.

     From the second she stepped inside our shelter, she mystified us. Whatever she did, wherever she went, the paint can never left her hands.

     When Kathy sat in the crisis shelter, the can sat in her arms.  She took the can with her to the cafeteria that first morning she ate, and to bed with her that first night she slept.

     When she stepped into the shower, the can was only a few feet away.  When the tiny homeless girl dressed, the can rested alongside her feet.

     “I’m sorry, this is mine,” she told our counselors, whenever we asked her about it.  “This can belongs to me.”

     “Do you want to tell me what’s in it, Kathy?” I’d ask her? “Um, not today,” she said  “not today.”

     When Kathy was sad, or angry or hurt -- which happened a lot -- she took her paint can to a quiet dorm room on the 3rd floor.  Many times on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, I’d pass by her room, and watch her rock gently back and forth, the can in her arms.  Sometimes she’d talk to he paint can in low whispers.

     I’ve been around troubled kids all my life, (over 41,000 homeless kids will come to our shelters this year!).  I’m used to seeing them carry stuffed animals (some of the roughest, toughest kids at Covenant House have a stuffed animal).  Every kid has something -- needs something -- to hold.

     But a paint can? I could feel alarm bells ringing in my head.

     Early this morning, I decided to “accidentally” run into her again.  “Would you like to join me for breakfast?” I said.  “That would be great,” she said.

     For a few minutes we sat in a corner of our cafeteria, talking quietly over the din of 150 ravenous homeless kids.  Then I took a deep breath, and plunged into it....

     “Kathy, that’s a really nice can.  What’s in it?”

     For a long time, Kathy didn’t answer.  She rocked back and forth, her hair swaying across her shoulders.  Then she looked over at me, tears in her eyes.

     “It’s my mother,” she said.

     “Oh,” I said.  “What do you mean it’s your mother?” I asked.

     “It’s my mother’s ashes,” she said.

     “I went and got them from the funeral home.  See, I even asked them to put a label right here on the side. It has her name on it.”

     Kathy held the can up before my eyes.  A little label on the side chronicled all that remained of her mother: date of birth, date of death, name.  That was it.  Then Kathy pulled the can close, and hugged it.

     “I never really knew my mother, Sister,” Kathy told me.  “I mean, she threw me in the garbage two days after I was born.” (We checked Kathy’s story. Sure enough the year Kathy was born, the New York newspapers ran a story, saying that the police had found a little infant girl in a dumpster ... and yes, it was two days after Kathy was born.)

     “I ended up living in a lot of foster homes, mad at my mother,” Kathy said.  “But then, I decided I was going to try to find her.  I got lucky -- someone knew where she was living. I went to her house.”

     “She wasn’t there, Sister,” she said.  “My mother was in the hospital.  She had AIDS.  She was dying.

     “I went to the hospital, and I got to meet her the day before she died.  My mother told me she loved me, Sister,” Kathy said crying.  “She told me she loved me.”  (We double-checked Kathy's story ... every word of it was true.

     I reached out and hugged Kathy, and she cried in my arms for a long, long time.  It was tough getting my arms around her, because she just wouldn’t put the paint can down.  But she didn’t seem to mind.  I know I didn’t...

     I saw Kathy again, a couple hours ago, eating dinner in our cafeteria.  She made a point to come up and say hi. I made a point to give her an extra hug....

     I’ve felt like crying tonight.  I can’t seem to stop feeling this way.  I guess this story -- the whole horrible, sad, unreal mess -- has gotten to me tonight.

     I guess that’s why I just had to write you this letter.

     Please -- I know you and I have never met before.  But I need to ask you something very important, and I’m praying you’ll consider it, if you can.

     Do you think you could help Kathy ... and our other kids at Covenant House?  Please?

     There’s one very important thing you need to know about Covenant House and our kids and it is this -- A DONATION TO COVENANT HOUSE IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST WAY YOU CAN HELP THE TERRIFIED AND HELPLESS HOMELESS KIDS ON OUR STREETS!

     This year more than 41,000 homeless kids ... kids who are 12, 16, 17 years old ... will come to our doors.

     We’ll give these kids food, and a safe bed to sleep in (the streets are incredibly dangerous!) and medicine, and counseling if they need it (most kids do).

     But most of all, we’ll give these kids love.  For thousands of these kids, the love we give them tonight will be the first love they’ve ever known!

     We are here for kids like Kathy 24 hours a day, in 9 cities across America, 365 days a year.  No kid -- no kid! -- is ever turned away ever!

     Thanks to the love and help of thousands of caring people -- people just like you -- Covenant House spends MORE than the entire federal government to help these kids.  (That’s what I meant when I said that giving to us is THE best way to help these kids.)

     But so much more needs to be done.  And we can’t do it alone.

     Do you think maybe you could help?  Please?  Any donation you can send -- $15, $25, $50 -- any amount, will be a godsend to our kids.  Please do it today if you can.

     Please.

     I want to assure you of one very important thing.  We’re going to do all we can to help Kathy, to let her know she is loved.  And I know, with your help, we are going to reach Kathy, and help her in a way no one has ever done before. You have my promise on that....

     And when we do reach her, it will be because of you.  It will be because people like you haven’t stopped caring, and haven’t stopped loving.  Yes, it will be possible because of you. It will be possible because of you.

     Thanks so much for reading this long letter.  And please, pray for us if you can.  Your prayers really help a lot.

                In God’s love,

           /signed  Sister Mary Rose, President

P.S.  Our financial need is really urgent right now.  Please help, if you can.  (Thanks for caring....)

Covenant House Redux

Covenant House crawled back from near oblivion to where it started taking in some $60 million a year – $27 million short of the $87 million before Ritter’s crash and burn. The donor base fell to 400,000 – a catastrophic fall-off from the 1.2 million in the halcyon days of Fr. Bruce.

And what of Ritter? He was ousted from the priesthood, but was never prosecuted and never did jail time. Sources report he bought a small house somewhere in upstate New York where he turned one room into a private chapel, grew a beard and became a recluse.

Father Ritter died in obscurity at his farmhouse in Otsego County, New York on Oct. 7, 1999

Covenant House today (as of June 30, 2017)

     • Operates in 31 cities in six countries

     • 1,920 kids on average sheltered nightly

     • 10,000 youth cared for in residential programs

     • Total contributors and other revenue: $150,664,970.00

     • Total assets: $257,832,479.00

     • Total Donor Base (as of 12/31/2018): 363,092

Takeaways to consider

Is your message to your prospects, customers or donors emotional enough? 

• Ritter’s letter – and later, Tom Gaffney’s letter – were not New York Times reports analysing the statistics of runaway children on the streets and the cost to society of dealing with them.  Rather, they are highly-charged stories about individual kids that echo three of Bob Hacker’s copy drivers: guilt, guilt and more guilt.

• Hacker's seven key copy drivers – the emotional hot buttons that make people act –  are: Fear - Greed - Guilt - Anger - Exclusivity - Salvation - Flattery.

• ‘If your copy isn't dripping with one or more of these, tear it up and start over.’ – Bob Hacker

• Ritter’s prose (and Gaffney’s) paint graphic pictures in the mind’s eye. Is your descriptive copy visual? Or do you have to rely on brochures and photos to make your product or service come alive?

• ‘When emotion and reason come into conflict, emotion wins every time.’ – John J. Flieder.

• ‘Probably well over half of our buying choices are based on emotion.’ – Jack Maxson

• ‘You cannot bore people into buying.’ —David Ogilvy

• Are you prepared to deal with a public relations disaster? Covenant House was bopping along, doing good works, enjoying a fine reputation. Suddenly Bruce Ritter was exposed as a pederast. The media had a field day. Anger and outrage coupled with old-fashioned sex and embarrassment to the Catholic Church is a reporter’s dream, guaranteed to make everyone squirm – protagonists, antagonists, readers and viewers. You bet it sold newspapers and guaranteed high rating for television news.

• What if you find yourself with an executive who is accused of committing a heinous act and who absolutely maintains innocence?

• In the public relations field, the buzz phrase is ‘Reputation Management.’ A nasty fight that is allowed to spill out and fuel a media feeding frenzy can be devastating.

• Once this destructive and reckless priest was gone, the actions of Covenant House were completely correct in every way. 

• Compare the Covenant House approach to making a quick, clean breast of it with how Nixon handled Watergate. 

• If disaster strikes and the media are all over you like a cheap suit, call in a reputation management expert such as Bob Dilenschneider, Michael Levine, Edelman or Ruder Finn. 

‘Successful public relations is letting people in on what you are doing.– Evelyn Lawson

About the author: Denny Hatch

Denny Hatch

After graduating from Columbia University in 1958, I was drafted into the U.S. army for a two-year stint. I loved it! It was the peacetime army and I acquired skills that lasted me throughout my career: writing press releases; writing, producing and narrating a documentary for the New York Army Reserve; and writing and editing a classical music series for radio station WXQR in New York.

Following the army, I had nine jobs in twelve years in business. I was fired from five of them. Later I went on to save two business and start three others. One of the businesses - the Who's Mailing What? newsletter and archive service founded in 1984 - revolutionised the science of how to measure the success of direct mail. Over the years I have been a publicist, magazine publisher, book club director, agency account executive, copywriter, designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. 

In my spare time I wrote four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.

Related case studies or articles

Denny Hatch’s ULTIMATE 85-POINT MARKETEER’S CHECKLIST

Denny Hatch brings us an extraordinary checklist that everyone involved in fundraising and marketing communication should run through before putting pen to paper.

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The most successful advertisement in the history of the world

What is the most successful advertisement ever? Legendary marketing expert Denny Hatch tells all and there’s so much fundraisers can learn from this.

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Covenant House Alaska: ‘moustache march’

Covenant House helps homeless and runaway youth in Alaska. Moustache march, has brought new supporters to their cause, as well as raising much-needed funds.

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Covenant House candlelight vigil

Fundraising is at its best when it mobilises large numbers of people to take action for a cause that will bring about change. This exhibit demonstrates how to reposition an event that is ‘tired’ and make it work on multiple levels.

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