As someone who writes direct marketing fundraising letters, I can boast that more people have read my scintillating writing than the words of most published authors.
Little solace, however, when acknowledging how many people have received this compelling prose, but not bothered to open the envelope, let alone finish the letter.
The envelope has a story of its own. And I care little if 98% of recipients never get to the last line as long as 2% cut a check to my client. And I care not if those 2% read a word, for that matter.
Numbers are the game in direct marketing, and you don’t need much readership when you’re sending the right messaging to the right audience. Let’s say you have that, and a decent envelope teaser.
What could then go wrong? A few possibilities …
1) You open the letter talking about yourself. Sadly (or perhaps not) our readers care more about themselves than any of our organizations. If you don’t engage me with something about ME and MY PARTICULAR INTERESTS in the first you lines, you risk losing my readership.
If your list is good, the readers’ particular interest will be your mission. Or those you help. But in any case, you should start off by immediately engaging me with the fact that I can be a hero. Or I’ve been a hero and can repeat that. Or some poor soul is deeply grateful. And counting on me.
About me, in any case.
2) Your letter doesn’t look and “feel” personal. Generally speaking, the more a fundraising communication looks and reads like PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE, the more likely potential donors are to read it.
We’re not fooling anybody. They know it’s a mass produced missive. But the engage with a letter personally when it looks and feels personal. That means indented first lines of paragraphs and typewriter fonts.
3) The letter reads like it’s written.
Fundraising letters are not really a written medium. They are auditory. They work best when they read like the spoken word. They should sound like a friend talking to you.
4) I can’t easily scan your letter and/or when I scan, nothing grabs my attention and buys my readership.
People don’t pick up a letter and start reading from the beginning. First the scope the P.S., then the opening (oops, did you lose ‘em there?), then flip the pages around a bit. That’s why good writers have short paragraphs, block indents, underscoring, boldface, and other visual cues that get folks to pause and read a phrase or two.
Not scannable = not as likely read. So make sure your letters are well “designed” to maximize engagement. A first step: is the type big enough and paragraphs short enough to be EASY TO READ?
There are many more reasons people don’t read your fundraising letters. The biggest is that they’re just too busy at THAT MOMENT when they pick up your mail. More on all this later. Meanwhile — my friend Otis Maxwell has written a book about direct marketing that worth you time. Here’s a free chapter on “How to Keep Readers on the Hook” that has more useful thoughts about getting people to read letters of all kinds.