Direct-Mail Writing That Raises Funds, Part 3
Make your letter as easy to read as possible. If your reader makes it past the outer envelope, he or she will be more likely to stay engaged if your letter screams “Easy Read!” Few of us, after a long day at work or a busy day at home, want to have to get out our magnifying glass and thesaurus to wade thought an appeal letter.
You may personally hate these techniques, but the underlining, bolding, indenting and other formatting techniques actually help guide the eye through copy. And given that many of us are scanners (not readers), using these judiciously can fairly easily help a person capture the essence of the problem and the opportunity his or her gift will make possible. Read what you have bolded, underlined, indented or otherwise formatted to stand out (this can be a larger font size, a different font, etc.). Does the person who scans just those components get the gist of the entire message?
Additionally, use 1 inch margins (minimum) and a font that is readable, both in terms of size and style. About three in five Americans have to wear reading glasses; your challenge is to make your letter look worth my while to put on a pair of readers (which a large percentage of women have said make them feel “dowdy”). If it looks fairly easy to read, it has a better chance of being read.
Make sure your P.S. and the copy on your reply card restate the case. Some people will just read your opening paragraph and the P.S., and others will toss the letter but keep the reply card to mail in with a gift when they are ready to do so. These two copy areas often get overlooked or treated perfunctorily—but they are very important to achieving the goal of raising money.
The P.S. can briefly restate the need and what my gift will do to help solve it, and thank me for my donation. Note that I didn’t say “thank me for considering a donation.” Don’t provide an easy way out—well, I considered a gift so I did what I was asked.
Those “Yes, I want to ...” statements on reply cards may seem silly to you, but in reality, they should restate the case for the donation: “Yes, I want to help feed hungry children right in my own community. Here’s my gift to provide meals.”
Avoid editorial committees. Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg said, “If Columbus had an advisory committee, he would probably still be at the dock.” The same is true with your fundraising copy; if you have a committee editing it, it probably never will go as far (raise as much) as it would have without their intervention. Remember what I said last week: your fundraising copy is a conversation between two people—the reader and the letter-signer.
Sometimes copy-editing committees are impossible to shake off. In that case, establish who is the final say and then do all you can to help that person understand what makes fundraising copy work (and what makes it fail). Don’t expect people to instinctively know what works; they most likely will fall back on what they like, forgetting that they are not the target audience. Also, preface your letter that your editors will read with a cover sheet that explains who is the target audience, what is your intention for them to take away from reading the letter and what is your income goal.
Pamela consults with nonprofits, helping them develop their fundraising strategy and writing copy to achieve their goals. Additionally, she teaches fundraising at two universities, hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraisers to be passionate about the profession. Previously, Pamela led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations. Pamela is a member of the Advisory Panel for Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, a CFRE, a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and Dominican University, and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from California Southern University. Contact Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @pjbarden.