Long vs. Short Fundraising Copy: Length does matter.

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 1, 2017 11:00:00 AM / by E. Michael Lawrence

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This blog was originally published in May of 2016. Because of the interest in the topic we've decided to republish it here.

All non-profits have to develop strong fundraising campaigns. And like it or not, direct mail is still the key to a good fundraising campaign. Social media seems cheap and easy, but it remains a tiny portion of non-profit's revenue. 

One of the first questions many non-profits ask when starting a Direct Mail campaign is, “How long should the letter be?” Those of us who have been in the business for decades know two things. 

 

  1. The letter should be long enough to say what it has to say. In others words, if your copywriter thinks he or she needs four, or six, or eight pages to make the case, then it should be four or six or, yes, even eight pages. Longer letters are especially effective in prospect mail where you have to convince prospects to make their first gift to your organization. 

  1. Long copy almost always beats short copy. People who haven’t been involved with direct mail fundraising often say, “That letter is too long. I’d never read that.” But the fact is in head-to-head testing long copy more often than not beats short. And, almost more importantly, what YOU or I think shouldn’t matter in direct mail fundraising. Or in any direct marketing test. What the data shows should matter. And the data shows long copy beats short.

In head to head tests between a direct mail package that contains a short one or two page letter and another package with a six or eight page letter, the longer package wins time and time again.

We know to the cent what each package costs, and the longer package will cost more, so almost everybody who comes to the table without previous knowledge of direct mail, is going to say, "Well, I'd rather mail that short letter. I don't want to spend more on a long letter that no one will take the time to read. So, let's go with the shorter letter”.

Well, I'm here to tell you the chances are overwhelming that the package with the longer letter is going to be more successful despite the higher cost. There are multiple reasons and theories why.

 Suppose you get a six or eight page letter, let's say from a religious charity that you have heard of. It is addressed to you by name, and for six, eight, ten or even twelve pages it tells you about a cause and why that cause urgently requires attention from you. It is attempting to position that charity as one that is worthy of your support.

That's flattering. It's flattering to someone to get a personal communication from the head of an organization that they are predisposed to think is doing good work, and that “leader of the cause” has taken the time and trouble to thoroughly lay out the “case” for supporting the cause. So that letter is going to come not as an annoyance, but as a compliment - "Wow, I got a letter from so-and-so. I like his work, now I'm going to learn a lot more about him by reading this long letter he sent me."

Although I believe people do enjoy getting long letters, I also don’t think that they diligently read them with great care ... every line every paragraph, every sentence. I think people tend to skip when they're reading and they'll look at the top of the first page, they'll get a sense of what the subject matter is and they'll either be grabbed or not grabbed by the style of the writing.

And then they'll scan the page, and if there's a paragraph two-thirds of the way down the page that's in bold-face type and indented, their eye will be caught by that and they'll read that paragraph.

Then they'll skip over to the next page and maybe they'll see a paragraph on the next page that has hand-inked brackets surrounding it; they'll read that paragraph.

When they see a paragraph that has a long sentence that's completely underlined, they'll read that underlined sentence. And they'll go through the letter kind of skipping to those passages which in some graphic way have been highlighted.

And then finally they will get to the P.S. And one thing we know that people will always read is the P.S. Always have a PS at the end of your direct mail letters. And the P.S. should not be an afterthought. The function of the PS is to summarize or capsulize what you now want the reader of this letter to do. Usually, go to the enclosed reply form, sign the petition that's there, or list your prayer intentions, or answer the survey questions. And then please send a contribution of $25, $35, $50 or the most generous gift you can afford for this good cause.

So this person has got an eight-page letter, he or she has scanned it, then started skipping down to the highlighted passages. By the time he gets to the last page he’s absorbed the gist of your message. Then he reads the P.S. and the P.S. is like marching orders: "This is what I want you to do now." And if it's well done, and if the cause is one that appeals to this person, you're likely to get a contribution.

To sum up, here's a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Although there is no perfect length, longer is usually better than shorter.

  2. Print graphically. That is to say, underline, bold, indent important parts of the letter

  3. Don't forget the P.S. It’s the marching orders you’re delivering to your supporters.

For more tips on writing good copy, click here: http://blog.lawrencedirect.com/writing-fundraising-copy-for-non-profits-is-not-like-scrabble.


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Topics: Direct Mail, Non-Profit Direct Mail Campaign

E. Michael Lawrence

Written by E. Michael Lawrence

E. Michael Lawrence is the founder and president of LDMI. Mike has been professionally active in the direct response field since 1966, when he helped to launch Triumph magazine, a monthly journal of Catholic thought, through direct mail circulation promotion and fundraising. In 1976, Mike Lawrence joined Wiland Services, Inc., (WSI) a direct mail database management and data processing services company. He left WSI 11 years later as Executive Vice President - Operations, and a member of the company's Board of Directors, to form LDMI.

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