Fundraising Letter: Long vs. Short Letters in Direct Mail Fundraising
Many people outside the direct marketing world assume short fundraising letters are more effective than long letters. Inside the direct response world, the opposite is almost always considered true. The long vs. short letter debate in Direct Mail copywriting has been tested so many times, with the longer letter winning so often, it has become second nature to most professionals.
Longer letters consistently beat shorter.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t test different packages and different lengths, you absolutely should. Every package, appeal, and non-profit is different. Generally speaking, it’s safe to say that a 2-page donation letter will outperform a 1-page letter.
(Click here for our article on why direct mail is still relevant)
There are a couple reasons why longer fundraising letters outperform shorter ones which you should keep in mind when writing your next direct mail fundraising letter.
The Personal Touch in Fundraising Letters
Some people tend to think that long letters come as an annoyance to the recipent’s. This is not the case in fundraising letters, especially from non-profits that the recipent supports. It gives them the oppurtunity to learn more about the organization. They are also quite flattered when they receive a letter from an organization whose work they deem important, especially if it is personalized letter from someone well known in that organization..
This is an important concept to consider. You aren’t making an elevator pitch, where you have 2 minutes to tell your entire story. You have a captive, open-hearted audience. They want to hear about the work you’re doing. Obviously, you shouldn’t ramble on about the thousand different things you are doing, but you should take the time to present your case. Your work is important, and your supporters want to read about the projects you are working on. Asking for donations in that letter is not a bad idea.
People Skim Over Donation Letters
As much as people enjoy getting long letters, even long fundraising letters, that doesn’t mean that they diligently read every line, every paragraph, every sentence.
People tend to skip around when they’re reading. They’ll look at the top of the first page, to get a sense of the subject matter, and either be drawn in or not by what they see. Then they’ll look down the page, and if a paragraph two-thirds of the way down is bold-face and indented, their eye gets caught and they’ll read that paragraph. Then they’ll skip to the next page and see a paragraph with hand-inked brackets, their eye is drawn and they’ll read that paragraph. When they see a paragraph with a long, underlined sentence they’ll read it. They’ll go through the letter, skipping to those passages that catch their eye in some way. Then on the last page, the P.S. will draw their attention. (Here’s a free piece of advice for all non-profits out there – always have a PS.).
The story you are trying to tell shouldn’t be laid out one step after the other. It should be told graphically, with different fonts, graphics, underlines and bolds.
By the time the recipient has skimmed through the letter, they should have a very good sense of who you are, what you are doing in this appeal, why it is important, and why and how the recipient can help. This style of letter delivers your message much more effectively than a text heavy letter. So when you write fundraising letters, write graphically (in more ways than one) and convey your message repeatedly across several pages.
Again: there is no set limit on length of letters, fundraising or otherwise. Every non-profit and business is different. Different types of content should be tested and re-tested. We have found, overwhelmingly, that the fundraising appeal with the longer letter is more successful than one with a shorter letter.
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