Direct-Mail Writing That Raises Funds, Part 2
Keep it conversational. If your letter doesn’t read like people talk, they are more likely to give up. Read over every word and when in doubt, substitute words for those that have fewer syllables and are more common in everyday language. The direct-mail appeal is not the time to show off the letter-signer’s fancy vocabulary. (The exception might be if you are writing to a group of people who use “fancy vocabulary” in everyday life.) You want your reader to feel comfortable reading the letter, and not feel like they walked into the classroom that is only for geniuses.
Don’t solve the problem without the reader’s help. “We’re going to feed 250 people” suggests it will happen with or without my help. However, “Our goal is to feed 250 people this year, but we need your help!” let’s the reader know that he or she is part of the solution. You don’t want to create a sense of helplessness or hopelessness in terms of responding to the need; instead, you want the potential donor to see how he or she can be part of the solution.
Make the offer obvious. You want people to give money to help your organization accomplish something. That needs to be as clear as possible. “Your gift of $XX will help us feed an additional 10 hungry men and women this Thanksgiving season” will likely lead to more action than “Your gift will help us accomplish our mission.” You can’t assume your reader remembers what your mission is; spell out what he or she can accomplish in words that make sense to someone who does not live and breathe your cause 24/7.
Make it clear that you are asking them to give. The “ask”—what you want your reader to do—needs to be completely obvious. Yes, you have to ask them to give. “Consider how you can help us impact this need” doesn’t cut it. “Please send your most generous gift today so we can make sure that we don’t have to turn away a single hungry person this Thanksgiving” tells them what you want them to do. Then repeat this ask in the letter and on the reply piece. A reader may choose to say “no” to you by not giving, but at least that won’t be a result of a vague ask.
Many of you are using email to raise funds, and most of these tips apply to (or can be adapted to) eAppeals, as well. Oftentimes when something fails to raise money, it’s because we failed to ask, whether it’s in the mail or in an email.
Next week I’ll cover several other best practices (that means “stuff that works” in my book) for writing direct mail. Meanwhile, here’s the start of your checklist, based on this old dog’s guidance for direct-mail writing:
Checklist for Writing Direct Mail
- Does my envelope beg to be opened?
- Does the opening paragraph (or two) focus on the reader, not on the nonprofit?
- Am I talking conversationally to people instead of writing too formally?
- Have I explained a problem that won’t be solved without the reader’s donation?
- Can the reader easily see what difference his or her gift will make?
- Have I asked the reader—more than once—to give a donation?