Whether you are writing your own fundraising letters or having someone else do it for you, here’s a simple formula structure to make sure it’s being written correctly and effectively, courtesy of copywriter Julie Boswell…
- STEP 1 – Point out who your message is for
- STEP 2 – Identify their problem
- STEP 3 – Talk about why what they’re currently doing to solve their problem won’t work
- STEP 4 – Tell them how you discovered what DOES work
- STEP 5 – Tell them how they can get it
Boswell is primarily writing for businesses selling a service or product, but the principles involved absolutely apply to fundraising for a non-profit organization or political campaign. In fact, not only is this an effective formula for fundraising, it’s perfect for developing a message aimed at voters, as well.
Debate: Long Fundraising Letters vs. Short Fundraising Letters
If you talk to almost anyone who is NOT in the direct mail fundraising business, they’ll likely tell you to “keep it short; nobody reads long letters.”
But if you talk to anyone who is successfully in the business of raising money via direct mail, they’ll likely tell you the exact opposite; that “the more you tell, the more you sell.”
Kevin Gentry, a bona fide conservative direct mail guru with the Charles Koch Foundation, offers these observations in the age-old “tastes great/less filling” debate on copy length…
“Long copy generally outperforms short copy. We don’t know why for certain this is true, but A/B testing, or split-testing, has repeatedly shown this for most circumstances, even allowing for the additional costs of longer copy. One theory has been that in order to adequately explain your proposed, complex solution to a big problem, you need a lot of space to lay out a compelling case.
“Therefore, this argument helps explain why your prospect letter copy must generally be longer than your housefile copy. Most groups do not have the sufficient brand identification or credibility to simply state a case that prospective donors will support. It’s one thing if you are the Red Cross asking for help in response to a natural disaster that has dominated national headlines. But it’s a far different thing if your group is not known, the purported threat you’re trying to address does not feel imminent and your proposed solution is complicated and does not necessarily appear time-tested.
“Likewise, if you are introducing a major new project to your existing supporters, it may require a lot of space to lay out all the benefits of your big, new hairy goal. By extension, the compelling nature of your case as well as the length of text required to make that case can help underscore the magnitude of your task – and help explain why you’re asking your donor for 10x his highest previous contribution.”
My final piece of advice on this topic:
A fundraising letter cannot be too long, but it can be too boring. And as late President Richard Nixon reportedly once told political strategist Roger Stone, “The only thing worse than being wrong is being boring.”