Here’s what I know about writing good fundraising letters: You can practice and study for years and still feel like you’re only scratching the surface. There’s always something new, because we’re always learning something new.
So perfection will always be out of reach. But don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. Here are a few simple things you can do today.
1. Change the font
If you’re not already using one, switch to a serif font. It wins readability tests. And what’s easier to read gets read. While you’re at it, bump up the size as well. Fourteen is the new twelve. Your older readers (and most of your readers are probably over 50) will love you for it. Better yet, they’ll read you for it!
2. Indent the paragraphs
Another very easy fix. Indenting your paragraphs invites the reader in. She’s not faced with intimidating blocks of type, so she’s more likely to give it a go. While you’re at it, keep the paragraphs pretty short. I don’t like to go over 5 lines. And I use a lot of one line paragraphs – especially where I want to emphasize something.
Speaking of emphasis, go ahead and underline. But not everything. Think of it like a spice. A little makes a big difference, too much makes a mess.
4. Send it back to 6th grade
Or even better, 4th. Use the built-in Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tool in Word. Or try this readability calculator. I love Jeff Brooks’ book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications. In it, he suggests keeping it between 4th and 6th grade. Do that with short sentences. And short words.
5. Make sure you use the word “you” often
Highlight all the “you’s” in your letter. If it isn’t covered in highlighted “yous”, go back and reword it. Donor communications giant Tom Ahern often says: “you is glue”. It’s magic. It connects your reader to you. And when you rewrite that way, it makes you put your donor at the center. That changes your point of view as well. Good stuff!
6. Write like you talk
Forget your 7th grade English teacher. Use contractions. Start sentences with “And” or “But”. Use ellipses… Sentence fragments. Whatever it takes to make it sound like one person talking to another. You’re not going for “official” here!
7. Read it out loud
Yeah, your office mate will think you’ve lost it. But you can hear what your eyes alone don’t pick up – awkward phrases, stiff wording… things that just don’t work.
There’s so much more! But these things are easy to do. So you have no excuse. Give it a try, and see what you think.
Want to know more? I love this area, so I’m sure I’ll write more. In the meantime, you might want to check out my friend Pamela Grow’s direct mail fundraising program.
P.S. Don’t forget to add a P.S.!
Read what my friend Lisa Sargent says about this direct mail superhero here.
Originally published in 2015