Direct-Mail Writing That Raises Funds, Part 3
Writing direct-mail letters (or e-appeals that support or replace a mailed appeal) requires you (the writer) to get inside your reader’s head for a few minutes. Last week, I provided six tips to help you accomplish that—making the potential reader want to open the envelope; focusing copy on the reader; having a “conversation” with your reader; showing the reader the problem that needs his or her gift to help correct; giving the reader a vision of the difference that’s possible with a gift; and making it obvious to the reader that his or her gift is needed.
The following contains additional tips for writing direct-mail fundraising copy that raises funds—and is a tool that helps build relationships between your donors and your organization.
Don’t send the audience down rabbit trails. These are those interesting copy additions that don’t really help you accomplish your goal, which is to secure a donation from the reader. Some rabbit trails seem harmless enough—“be sure to go to our Facebook page and read what people are saying about the good work we do,” for example. Another may be to talk about an upcoming event that is important to your organization, but not germane to the project for which you are raising funds.
Yes, these are good things, but they will lead your readers astray; they may put down the letter and go to your Facebook page to see what others are saying about you. Then check their own notifications, respond to a friend request, write a clever reply to their sister’s post and check on what an old boyfriend is up to. In short, doing anything but continuing to read about your organization’s need and how a donation can help solve it.
Again, rabbit trails are not necessarily bad; they simply do not belong in your fundraising copy. You have a single goal: to secure a donation. Anything that has the potential to deter a donor from giving right now in response to the need you present needs to be purged from your direct-mail copy.
Focus on messaging to the audience, not the length. You can send me a one-page letter or an eight-page letter; if it is about a subject I am not interested in, it won’t matter—I won’t read either letter. However, if you send me a well-written letter about a problem I genuinely wish I could do something about, you have a chance to get me to read your letter, regardless of length.
Arbitrarily deciding that a letter has to be "x" pages long or insisting that no one reads a letter that is longer than one page are not formulas for success. You have a problem to present, an opportunity to give to help solve that problem, and a clear case to lay out showing why I should give now. Your letter needs to be as long as it takes to accomplish that.
If your letter is boring or you are mailing it to people who really aren’t interested in the solving the problem you present, it is doubtful you will have an impact whether you write 150 or 1,500 words.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.