11 Apr Five Things to Remember When You Sit Down to Write Your Spring Appeal Letter
11 April 2023
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Here’s a quick reminder about writing appeal letters:
- Nobody reads appeal letters. Writing for someone who will read it completely misses the point. People scan, skip, and skim. If they can’t get the message by scanning, skipping, and skimming, the letter didn’t work. In fact, think of appeal letters less as letters and more as technical writing exercises. Your use of space, font effects like bold and underlining, and color all contribute to where their eyes land during the scanning, skipping, and skimming. Consider that you only have three seconds of their attention. Make it count.
Pro Tip: Someone will tell you that they would not read a four-page letter, implying that no one else will either. That person wouldn’t read a one-page letter either. The page count isn’t the issue. The response rate is. And longer letters get a better response rate.
- Use a PS note. Research consistently shows that when someone reads nothing else, they read a PS note. You should always include one and it should be used to emphasize what you are asking the reader to do.
Pro Tip: Use the PS Note to communicate urgency.
- Readers will be drawn more to story than to a list of bullet points. Avoid the temptation to recite accomplishments. Appeal letters shouldn’t serve as organizational showcases. Instead tell stories that demonstrate organizational values. Connect with readers through your WHY more so than through your WHAT.
Pro Tip: Write the story first. Then chunk it up and separate the chunks with a specific ask that is repeated throughout the letter.
- Follow-up letters work. Assume that people who don’t respond, didn’t get it. Some threw it away unopened. Some opened it, did the scan/skip/skim thing, and tossed it aside. Some meant to respond and didn’t. And in some houses, the person who normally responds didn’t open the mail that day. Regardless, it is relatively unlikely that no response actually means it was considered and rejected. It is more likely that the “right” person never saw it. Or simply forgot. So send a follow-up letter – four-five weeks later.
Pro Tip: Use the outside of the envelope to help people decide to open it. Something handwritten, something colorful, a “teaser,” or even nothing at all – all create interest in what might be inside.
- Make the ask very specific. When your letter asks for a specific response – like “please consider a gift this year of $100” – it will raise more money. The ask should also be repeated on every page. Consider that you want people to “get it” when they are scanning, skipping, and skimming.
Pro Tip: Set your “ask” sentence off from the rest of the letter by using extra white space – extra blank lines before and after, and double indents on either side.
Good luck on your appeal letters this Spring!
Cheers, and have a great week!
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Willfried Wende, courtesy pixabay.com
Jim PerryPosted at 17:42h, 11 April
David, do you have empirical data supporting this: “Pro Tip: Someone will tell you that they would not read a four-page letter, implying that no one else will either. That person wouldn’t read a one-page letter either. The page count isn’t the issue. The response rate is. And longer letters get a better response rate.”
I really wonder if the effort in terms of staff time, printing and mailing in the spring is worth it. We get about $2500 in a spring drive. The amount is different for two other (non-environmental) boards that I sit on, but relative to the year end appeal they all come out like this. It could be said that $2500 is better than nothing, but too often the amount of time invested is not monetized against the returns.
I would be interetsed in hearing from other about this.
David AllenPosted at 20:25h, 11 April
Some years ago (maybe five or six?) I conducted my most recent A/B test using a four-page letter that I had written against a designed piece created by a marketing firm. The test wasn’t valid from a scientific point of view, because there were too many uncontrolled variables. Nonetheless, the four-page letter drew a third more responses and a third more money. Every time I have tested four against one, I have gotten very similar results. Applied to your situation, the question becomes this: is the prospect of raising an extra $800 or so (and the enhanced donor relationships the additional responses foster) worth the extra effort it would take to assemble the longer letters?
I can’t answer this for you, but I can tell you that writing longer, story-based letters gets easier with practice.