How to judge a fundraising letter
Jerry started writing fundraising letters in 1962 and over the years has probably written more of them than most people you could think of.
Every single one his tutorials can improve your fundraising, but number 30, might be particularly useful if you work for an organisation that struggles with the approval process, where deadlines slip and costs mount as growing numbers of your colleagues tweak, adjust and re-write copy in an effort to 'improve' your appeals.
Jerry has eight suggestions on how you can improve the process. You can read the complete version on SOFII, but here's a synopsis…
Give yourself some positive reinforcement
Remember, your donors actually like you and value your work. Supporting you makes them feel good. Why deny them that feeling?
Get your mind off the complaint letter that you received this morning
If you are angry when you read a letter, you are going to be on the defensive. The result is that you'll overlook what it should be doing in order to raise most money.
Don't try to edit the letter so it 'sounds like you'
If you write business letters and use jargon you'll come over as 'cold and sterile'. Donors want you to be warm, caring and positive. Let your writer use that style of language.
Trust your writer's technical expertise
If your writer uses short paragraphs, starts sentences with And or But, uses non-technical language and adds human anecdotes you should relax. They know how to raise money, so trust them.
Make sure your writer opens the letter with a strong beginning
The opening of the letter should be dramatic, emotional or personal. If you feel the opening could be stronger, don't comment any more. Send it back. A small change in an opening can have a huge impact on the entire flow of the piece.
Don't get hung up on the length of the letter
Some should be short, some should be long. Though people who really care about your work can't seem to get enough information (as long as it is interesting, accessible and relevant) sometimes a short letter can do particularly well. I've seen some very short reactivation letters that have achieved great results.
Be sure the letter asks for a specific donation amount
What you ask for will vary according to the donor's previous gifts and the work that you feature, but unless you tell the donor what you want, you leave them guessing and those guesses can often be well below what they can afford.
Don't pass the letter around the office for further approval, unless it is absolutely necessary
Keep the number of people who approve the letter to a minimum. And make sure that the people who do approve it are trained in the basics of editing a fundraising letter.
All others should only be allowed to change inaccuracies.
I'd add a few additional tips to Jerry's…
The first time you read it, hold the letter and nothing else
If you start making comments immediately, you are likely to miss the overall impact of the piece and might find yourself forcing 'important' matters into the opening parts of the letter when they are covered off later – this can really destroy the flow. So put down the pen and concentrate on the emotional impact of what you are reading.
Does the letter concentrate on telling the donor what they have done – not what your charity is doing?
You should say you or your far more often than you say we.
Read the letter in a minimum of 16 point
I was given this advice years ago by a newspaper proof-reader. It really does help you spot typos, mistakes and poor phrasing.