Five Maples’ Fundraising Blog

Fundraising letters: shorter is not always better

Clients often ask me some form of this question: Shouldn’t we keep our letter down to one page?

Somewhere, sometime it seems everyone has been told: Don’t write a fundraising letter that’s longer than one page. People won’t read it.

Thing is, people give when their emotions are engaged and the resulting impulse to give is rubber stamped by their intellect. Here’s what I mean…

Renewing a donor?

  • Your donor wants to hear a great story about how she helped someone.
  • Your donor wants to know how vital his donation will be.
  • Your donor wants to know how much she’s needed and appreciated.
  • Your donor wants to know how much he should give.
  • Your donor wants to know what her donation will accomplish.

Acquiring a new donor?

He’ll also want to know who you are and what your mission is.

And besides delivering all the above information you need to:

Design the letter for both scanning and reading

Your letter must be laid out for maximum readability. That means large type, short paragraphs, plenty of white space, highlights (bold or underlined text), and a PS.

That board member who insists that people don’t read long letters is right—most people won’t. They will scan the letter first. Those who are likely to give may peruse the letter more carefully after that first scan. That’s why letter design is so important and why I discuss it in several posts. The letter has to both scan effectively and read effectively.

And because a picture is worth a thousand words…

You should add a photo that shows the story the text is telling. This increases the emotional engagement.

Guess what? It’s almost impossible to do all of the above on just one page.

Robert Bly’s classic and invaluable “The Copywriter’s Handbook” has a lot of great advice on long versus short copy. The essence is that you need longer copy when:

  • the decision is high in emotion (which making a donation clearly is);
  • the donor needs information to determine whether sending you money makes sense.

Acquisition letters to first time donors need long copy. Lapsed donors need long copy. A faithful donor may need only a short request, as long as you have kept her up to date on what her money has accomplished! But longer copy is still needed in your main fundraising appeals because donors want to keep hearing those heart-warming stories.

Of course, using two pages is not a rule either. There are times when short-copy fundraising is better: A reminder note at the end of the fiscal year. A thank you card in December that includes an end-of-year request and a return envelope. A postcard follow up to a previous letter. An email following up on a letter.

My advice:

  1. Ignore those who say you have to keep it down to one page. Review some good examples (see the next paragraph).
  2. Write a draft letter that covers the main points donors need to know (see above). Don’t worry about how long your draft is.
  3. Then edit that letter to make it direct, simple, clear, informal, and readable (or have us edit it for you. See below).

Some of our best performing fundraising letters have been two pages with a color photo. In my next post I’ll show you some recent examples.

Need help getting out your spring fundraising appeal?

Whether you need lists, data-work, printing and mailing, or help with writing, design and editing, we are ready to help you! Call me at 800-437-7780 ext 104, or Email Me Today!

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