8 Tips to Help Prospective Donors Enjoy Your Letter
We often talk about engaging readers, holding their attention, using inserts to increase their involvement with the package and other tactics that have been proven to raise response rates or gift amounts. These are important considerations.
But if we’re not careful, taking such a clinical approach can distract us from considering our readers’ overall experience of the package they receive. Here are a few suggestions to help you stay mindful of your readers’ feelings.
1. In Your First Draft, Focus on the Message, Not the Specs
Don't set out to write a two- or four-page letter, or worry about production considerations in this early stage. Simply make sure the letter says everything it needs to say in clear, concise language. Make certain your story has emotional power, gives readers a compelling reason to send a gift, and that reading your copy is a rewarding experience for them. Then, you can go back and add, subtract, edit and revise as much as you need to in order to meet the package’s production requirements.
2. Take Your Readers on a Journey That Makes Them Want to Keep Reading
Write your letter in a narrative style so ideas flow smoothly and naturally from one sentence to the next. Tie paragraphs together with transitions that keep the reader’s attention moving forward by ending them with phrases like, “you won't believe what happened next.” Then begin the next paragraph by picking up at the end of the previous one, like this:
… the look on her innocent face said it all.
I could tell at a glance she felt frightened and alone …
Another way to accomplish this is to begin a paragraph with a phrase like, “For example ...” — which, when a reader is skimming, compels them to go back and see what the previous paragraph was about.
3. Emphasize the Benefit to the Reader of Making a Gift
In fundraising, the only “product” we have to offer is the good feeling the reader will get from knowing they've made a difference in the world. Don't be afraid to point out the obvious by saying things like, “think how good you'll feel knowing that families like Katie's will have a warm, safe place to sleep this winter.”
4. Personalize With Care
Personalization is a powerful tool that encourages readers to feel they have a close relationship with the person who signs the letter. But it's important for you, as the copywriter, to know what that relationship is. Some letter signers communicate with their donors in a warm, casual way while others prefer a more formal approach. Thus, lasering a reader’s first name in the salutation can come across as overly familiar in some circumstances, but in others, beginning with, “Dear Mr. or Ms. Sample” can make readers feel they're being put at arm’s length. Take time to familiarize yourself with the letter signer’s unique communications style, so you can sound like them to your readers.
5. End Each Page in the Middle of a Sentence
It's a small touch when laying out the letter, but ending each page in the middle of a sentence encourages the reader to turn the page and keep reading. And the more they read, the longer they stay involved with the package.
6. Write to Someone You Know
I admit I'm not a big fan of personas. The theory is sound, but my experience has been that, in practice, they often end up being more like stereotypes than archetypes. Many writers (including yours truly) find it useful to choose someone they know personally — a neighbor, a mom, a grouchy old uncle, or whatever – and write the letter as if they were making the case for support directly to that person. It helps you focus on the message more succinctly and can even make you feel a more personal stake in winning over your reader.
7. Tell Your Reader Why You're Writing to Them Now
Your letter will feel much less like a sales pitch if the reader knows you're not just writing them out of the blue. There's no need to be subtle. Say, “I'm writing to you today because time is running out. School starts soon, and we must make sure the kids have good shoes, decent clothes and the supplies they need to succeed.”
8. Repeat the Donor’s Name on the Last Page of the Letter, If Possible
Most people read the first few sentences of a letter then flip to the end and read the closing remarks. Ending a letter with something like, “I'm so grateful to have you on our side, Jane (or, Mrs. Sample) …” reinforces the power of being personal. It's true that there is usually an additional production cost to lasering the last page of a letter which is why it's not done that often. And that’s why it has even more emotional power when you do it.
Giving is an emotional, even irrational, act. Treating donors like Pavlov’s dog, or having them react to carefully tested stimuli, does work, and those types of tools are important. But readers are also sensitive, emotional beings. Keeping that in mind, and focusing on little details that touch their human sides can further improve results and strengthen relationships.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.